Rights and Reproductions, or “R&R” for those in the know

William Penn, chalk portrait by Francis Place

Since starting at HSP in July as the new Rights and Reproductions Associate, I’ve handled lots of orders for digital reproductions of HSP materials and permission to distribute these materials in books, exhibitions, and other media.  Processing R&R orders provides a great front row seat to HSP’s unique and diverse materials, not to mention the cool ways in which patrons are using our historical artifacts.  While some materials are perennial favorites with patrons (Francis Place’s chalk portrait of William Penn is especially popular among textbook publishers), here’s a snapshot of MY favorite (and sometimes less well-known) R&R materials from the past two months:    

Not long after I began working at HSP, I received a request from Christie’s New York for a copy of a watercolor of Harriton House by William L. Breton.  Built in 1704 by a Welsh Quaker, Harriton is located in Lower Merion and is best known as the home of Charles Thomson, “the Sam Adams of Philadelphia.”  A Philadelphia merchant, Thomson became the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses and, in April 1789, traveled to Mount Vernon to inform George Washington that he had been elected the first President of the United States.  Over 200 years later, a carved mahogany side chair belonging to Charles Thomson was featured in Christie’s September auction of American furniture, folk art, and decorative arts and the watercolor of Harriton House was used as an illustration in the auction catalog.

Charles Thomson's Residence Harriton in Lower Merion

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is perhaps best known for its colonial and early American history holdings, but we also have many collections of compelling twentieth-century materials.

WPA poster of William Penn House

 

One of my favorites is the Work Projects Administration posters collection, which includes over 900 examples of works by Federal Art Project artists from the 1940s. While the Work Projects Administration was a federal program, it spawned many state and local subsidiaries, among them the Pennsylvania Art Program.  Accordingly, while the subjects and styles of the artworks in the poster collection are diverse, many are also specific to Philadelphia and feature such local landmarks as the Philadelphia Zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"Defense Steel" by Horatio C. Forjohn

The color and style of these woodblock prints notably contrasts with the charcoal shades of more well-known WPA artworks like Horatio Forjohn’s “Defense Steel,” which will be published in a forthcoming volume on industrial art.

 
 
 

Sometimes the best history is personal history and two recent reproductions requests follow that mantra.  The first order was for a digital copy of Thomas C. Simpson’s personal cashbook; a nineteenth-century merchant, Mr. Simpson emigrated from Northern Ireland to Norristown and the cashbook has helped his modern-day descendants in England unravel a piece of family history.  “Family” was also the watchword for a young bride and groom, who ordered a copy of Samuel Carpenter and Hannah Hardiman’s 1684 marriage certificate from HSP’s Isaac Cooper Jones collection of marriage certificates.  Descendants of Samuel and Hannah, the couple plans to display the certificate at their wedding and have their relatives sign it, just as the Carpenter and Hardiman families did in 1684.  It is these connections between past and present that make working at HSP so rewarding and make R&R a great opportunity to share our collections with patrons far and wide.

Marriage certificate of Samuel Carpenter and Hannah Hardiman

Interested in purchasing high-quality digital scans of HSP materials? Contact us at rnr@hsp.org or visit http://www.hsp.org/node/2032 for more information on our Rights and Reproductions service.  You can also view already-digitized materials online in HSP’s Digital Library.

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Bankers Trust Company: too small to save?

One of the main tasks Dana and I have been working on thus far for the Greenfield digital editing project– part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation- is to try to piece together the history of Bankers Trust Company, the banking institution on which our project is focused. This can at times be rather difficult due to gaps in the historical record. We have looked through several hundred documents from the Albert M. Greenfield Papers (collection 1959), as well as materials from a couple related collections located here at HSP, such as the Philadelphia Clearinghouse Association (collection 1908)- an association that among other things, helped member banks during banking panics- but pieces of the puzzle are still missing.

One part of the story that I am grappling with is why the effort to reorganize the bank, rather than liquidate it, ultimately failed. For many affiliated with the bank, its closure on December 22, 1930 did not spell certain doom. Rather, it was most likely viewed as only a temporary suspension enacted to allow the bank to recover from the run it had been experiencing over the last couple months. The plan was to reorganize Bankers Trust and have it reopen as soon as possible.

Almost immediately after the bank’s closure, efforts for its reorganization were underway, and the possibility of its reopening looked promising. The bank was able to quickly pay off many of its loans. Also, by the end of 1930, Bankers Trust had formed a Depositors’ Committee that drafted a plan for the bank’s reopening by the spring of 1931. Moreover, in March 1931, William D. Gordon replaced Peter Cameron as Secretary of Banking. Gordon seemed to have been on the same page as Greenfield with regards to the rehabilitation plans for Bankers Trust.

Depositors' Committee reorganization plan (April 18, 1931), page 1

Depositors' Committee reorganization plan, page 2

Greenfield and Bankers Trust President, Samuel H. Barker, were involved in reorganization planning as well. As the bank’s principal depositor, Greenfield had plenty of motivation to see Bankers Trust reopen. He himself sent Secretary Gordon an in-depth proposal for reorganization.

Greenfield's letter to Secretary of Banking William D. Gordon outlining his ideas for the bank's reorganization (July 2, 1931), page 1

Greenfield's letter to Gordon, page 2

Understandably, the reorganization plans and goals of the bank’s rehabilitation envisioned by its directors, stockholders, and depositors differed. A split amongst the bank’s depositors emerged. Some depositors felt that the Depositors’ Committee was too closely aligned with Bankers Trust stockholders and directors, which they argued was reflected in the reorganization plan. They wanted to preclude any persons from the “old regime,” most notably Greenfield, from having any involvement with the bank’s reorganization. In May 1931 these depositors, under the leadership of Frank S. Dreeben, formed the Minority Depositors’ Committee, or Depositors’ Protective Committee and drafted an alternate reorganization plan.

Minority Depositors' Committee plan (May 16, 1931), page 1

Minority Depositors' Committee plan, page 2

Minority Depositors' Committee plan, page 3

By June 1931, the Depositors’ Committee had obtained the signatures of 60% of depositors who supported the reorganization plan it had drafted; however, the state required 80% of depositors to endorse the plan in order for it to go through. After months of going back and forth, on September 24, Secretary Gordon announced his rejection of a reorganization plan for Bankers Trust and his decision to instead proceed with the bank’s liquidation. Gordon denied depositors’ petition to bar stockholders, officers, and directors who may have been depositors from receiving payment from liquidation proceeds. He also denied depositors representation on the liquidation board. The first payment to depositors was issued in early November, almost one year since the bank’s closing.

Greenfield tried to meet with Gordon days before the latter announced his decision to liquidate Bankers Trust

On average, liquidations during the Great Depression lasted about six years. Bankers Trust Company’s liquidation process lasted sixteen. The sixth and final payment was not made to depositors until May 1946.

A Bank’s Failure

Is it ever good news if a business associate sends you a telegram at 4 a.m.?

An urgent telegram to Albert Greenfield from Irland Beckman, who later became Pennsylvania's Secretary of Banking.

This one, part of the Albert M. Greenfield papers (collection 1959), announced an emergency meeting of the board of directors for Bankers Trust Company, which within hours became the first large Philadelphia bank to fail during the Great Depression.

Next week marks the 80th anniversary of the closure of Bankers Trust. Now largely forgotten, its failure to open on December 22, 1930 affected at least 100,000 depositors and made headlines for years to follow.

My colleague Faith Charlton and I are investigating the Bankers Trust story as we continue developing our new Greenfield digital history project, part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation. At the moment, we are working on untangling what happened in the bank’s final days.

Albert M. Greenfield (1887-1967) had been instrumental in the creation of the bank and served on its board of directors. Bankers Trust grew by leaps and bounds in its four-year history, acquiring nine other banks and growing to include 11 branches and $50 million in deposits (the equivalent of about $628 million today).

However, within months of its July 1930 acquisition of the struggling Bank of Philadelphia and Trust Company, Bankers Trust was experiencing a run on its deposits. Greenfield and other Bankers Trust officials believed it was healthy enough to survive the short-term distress, and two large Philadelphia banks loaned about $7 million to cover withdrawals. In mid-December, with Bankers Trust still in distress, a group of local bank presidents reassured the state Department of Banking that Philadelphia banks would support Bankers Trust.

According to several accounts, the local bank presidents changed their minds at a private meeting in the days before December 22 and decided to let Bankers Trust fail.

Official notice that Bankers Trust did not open on December 22. (Clearing House Association of Philadelphia records, collection 1908)

In a last desperate attempt to save the bank, one of Greenfield’s friends (and investor) William Fox claimed to have called President Herbert Hoover the morning of December 22 to urge him to step in and keep Bankers Trust’s doors open. We haven’t found evidence of that conversation in the Greenfield papers, but we do know that two days after Bankers Trust failed, Greenfield and the bank’s president Samuel Barker had an appointment with President Hoover in Washington, D.C. (Thanks to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, you can see their December 24, 1930 appointment listing here.)

For many Philadelphians, the Bankers Trust failure brought the Great Depression painfully close to home, perhaps for the first time.

Over the next few years, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking oversaw a lengthy legal process that returned to Bankers Trust customers about 59 cents on every dollar on deposit.

An April 11, 1932 audit hearing on the affairs of Bankers Trust Co., held at Convention Hall to accommodate the expected crowds (Philadelphia Record Photo Morgue collection, collection V7).

But that repayment was likely of little consolation to the thousands of small depositors whose savings were largely out of reach during the multi-year process and were never completely replaced.

In response to this and thousands of other bank crises around the country, in 1933 the federal government enacted sweeping banking reforms that included the creation of the FDIC.

A New Digital Project About 20th-Century History

I recently began work on a new digital history project here at HSP that will highlight one of our flagship collections related to the history of Philadelphia in the 20th-century: the Albert M. Greenfield papers (collection 1959).

Greenfield (1887-1967) was a prominent Philadelphia businessman involved in real estate, banking and mortgages, retail, and politics. His extensive connections to many civic, political, business, and social affairs make the collection one of the most heavily referenced when discussing 20th-century Philadelphia.

Albert M. Greenfield circa 1936

Our new Greenfield digital project will interpret a historical theme from Greenfield’s papers through a selection of primary source documents, contextual essays, and teacher resources. And given Greenfield’s involvement in so many different things, one of my first tasks has been to narrow our focus to just one topic.

One leading choice is to focus on the early years of the Great Depression and the story of a large Philadelphia bank called Bankers Trust Company that failed in 1930. At that time, no governmental safety net protected people or institutions if the bank where they kept their money failed. So when Bankers Trust failed to open its doors on December 22, 1930, approximately 135,000 depositors despaired that their money was gone for good.

Cover of advertising pamphlet about a Bankers Trust Co. branch in Germantown

Greenfield was a member of the Bankers Trust board of directors and heavily involved in the bank’s activities. His papers include Bankers Trust financial statements and ephemera, correspondence with bank executives, and after the bank’s failure, letters from angry depositors who thought he should help them get their money back.

This writer told Greenfield "all this bank trouble is at your door."

The same writer alleged that Greenfield removed his own money from the bank before it failed. Greenfield strongly denied those accusations for years to come.

We will select several hundred of those documents to digitize, transcribe, and annotate using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines, which allow sophisticated searching and analysis of digital documents.

This two-year project is part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation to highlight HSP’s 20th-century holdings. We will also be awarding a new research fellowship in 20th-century history, creating a web portal focusing on HSP’s 20th-century collections, and completing additional archival processing work on the Greenfield papers. You can read a bit more about how these efforts relate to our Civic Engagement Collections project in Matthew Lyons’ blog post from September.

I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress in the weeks and months ahead.