Focus on Rare Books at the PMA / Mary Wassermann

Librarians at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Library and Archives have had the pleasure of significantly enriching our rare holdings in recent years. These efforts dovetail with the museum’s larger goals to foster connections between its diverse collections and to encourage greater audience engagement with all of the museum’s offerings.

Here are some notable acquisitions for your enjoyment!wassermann-line-marble-2Books and archival materials related to the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exhibition are a strong collecting focus, as the Philadelphia Museum of Art has its origins with the Centennial. This small French work presents book bindings from around the world that were displayed at the exhibition. Of special interest are frank assessments, by Victor Wynants, of the bindings (i.e. “null”), and listings of materials, prices and techniques based on questionnaires.

Illustration from Délégation des ouvrièrs relieurs à l’Exposition universelle (1876: Philadelphie). Preface by V. Wynants. Paris: Se vend chez tons les libraires, 1879.

2 preliminary leaves, 245 pages, 2 plates; 18 cm.

Gift of Faith and Fine Arts in memory of Thomas J. Myer, Jr.


wassermann-line-marble-2This pamphlet, The Century Vase, by the Gorham Silversmiths Company, describes the famous commemorative “Century Vase” that was the centerpiece of Gorham’s exhibit at the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exposition. The vase was more than four feet tall, weighed 125 pounds, and was also displayed in later international exhibitions. Unfortunately it was melted down by Gorham in the 1930s.


Front cover of The Century Vase, sterling silver, by the Gorham Company. [Seattle, Wash.: Albert Hansen, 1909]. 1 volume (unpaged): illustrations; 16 cm

The Arcadia Library Endowment Fund.




Issues of Comoedia Illustré and other materials related to the Ballets Russes were recently acquired and supplement existing holdings. Given the museum’s strong focus on 20th-century modernism, of special interest is a 1923 program with cover design and illustrations throughout by Picasso.



Frontispiece illustration by Pablo Picasso of Saison de Ballets Classiques par la Troupe de Ballets Russes de Serge de Diaghilev du 25 Novembre au 31 Décembre 1923: Théâtre de Monte-Carlo.  Paris: M. de Brunoff, 1923.

In memory of Barbara H. Winner. She loved books.


wassermann-line-marble-2The Library has historically worked with curatorial departments to acquire rare titles and even more so lately. The following two works of Italian designs, one for majolica and the other for textile patterns, are two excellent examples of such collaborations.

The first is an 18th-century manuscript that includes watercolors with designs and illustrations of apothecary jars and other forms typical of majolica. One illustration in particular is very similar to a ceramic plate owned by the museum and made by the Levantino family of Albissola.

wassermann-design-for-ceramic-plate-from-album-of-designs-for-ligurian-majolicaDesign for ceramic plate from Album of designs for Ligurian majolica. [1790?].

39 leaves; watercolor drawings; 41.6 x 26.8 cm. Album of fine watercolor drawings depicting majolica pieces associated with the late 18th century ceramics industry based in Savona and Albissola, Liguria.

Purchased with the Margery P. and B. Herbert Lee Fund for Library Acquisitions, and proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works of art, and other Museum funds, 2016

wassermann-this-ceramic-plate-is-an-early-museum-acquisition-and-shows-a-similar-figure-and-leaf-formsThis ceramic plate is an early museum acquisition and shows a similar figure and leaf forms as illustrated in the library’s newly acquired Album of designs for Ligurian Majolica.
Dish. Made by the Levantino family of Albissola, Savona, Italy
Mid-18th century / Tin-enameled earthenware (faience), 2.5 × 17.8 × 17.8 cm / Bequest of Mrs. Frederic Graff, 1897 /               1897-883

wassermann-line-marble-2This Italian 19th-century textile printer’s sample book has vibrant woodblock images. Each design has tags with a reference number and occasional notations. Some patterns were likely meant for shawls, and others happen to be quite contemporary looking. With further research, we hope to uncover more details about this intriguing work.



Pages showing patterns, from Scialli e vesti con fazzoletti. [1835?].
144 leaves: 147 woodblock-printed designs; 31 x 21 cm.
An Italian textile printer’s sample book of sophisticated designs for cloth printing, produced circa 1835.
Purchased with the Margery P. and B. Herbert Lee Fund for Library Acquisitions and proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works of art, 2016


Mary Wassermann
Librarian for Collection Development and Management
Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646

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