TITANIC EXPECTATIONS: A VISIT WITH WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY SUPPORTERS

I recently returned from a visit to New England where I had the pleasure of meeting up with a number of Wolfsonian library supporters and donors. Learning that I would be “in the neighborhood,” Thomas C. Ragan invited me down to Southampton to have a look at the library of rare and reference books he has put together over the years documenting ocean liner travel. He had previously donated to our library a veritable treasure-trove of original materials from the Moore-McCormack Lines, from which we had selected some items in putting together a library exhibit on the Good Neighbor Fleet.” (See also my earlier blog post on the subject). Around that time, he had also shared with me an inventory of his own impressive library collection, but there is nothing like getting the chance to see the actual books themselves.

Although I had been born in Massachusetts and had lived in New England for my first twenty or so years, I had never yet been to Long Island. Naturally, I rather relished the opportunity to see a bit of that neck of the woods while indulging in my favorite pastime: spending time with books and book lovers. I was also happy to discover that the best route to his home in the Hamptons required a ferry crossing from Connecticut to Long Island. While attending the College of William and Mary in Virginia for graduate work in History, I had lived on a historic plantation in Surry County and regularly bicycled to Williamsburg, crossing the James River by ferry. That particular ferry was briefly featured in a music video by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.

The ferry that carried me from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Port Jefferson, Long Island was substantially larger than the one I used to take in Virginia, but no less interesting for me. It seemed the perfect way to set the mood for looking at books about steamships, ocean liners, and the nautical life.

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Once I arrived in Southampton, Tom greeted me at the door of his home tastefully designed by his partner. In keeping with Tom’s nautical interests, the upstairs room in which he housed his library was made accessible via a gangway.

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After a delicious lunch, I returned to Tom’s amazing library to begin the process of photographing and documenting the collection in preparation for a report to the Wolfsonian’s Collections Acquisition Committee. Tom had most generously offered to donate all of his substantial collection of rare and reference books dealing with the Titanic. In spite of the fact that thanks to our founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. and donor Laurence Miller, the Wolfsonian library holds a very impressive collection of ocean liner promotional materials, we had embarrassingly little material on that most famous ill-fated ocean liner. That will soon be remedied thanks to Mr. Ragan’s generosity.

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While perusing the shelves, I happened to come across another book published a few years before the tragedy with the rather ironic title: Unsinkable Ships.

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When I noticed some books related to the sinking of the Lusitania during the First World War and mentioned to Tom that we would be organizing an exhibition in time for the hundred year anniversary of the outbreak of that conflict, he offered to “throw in” not only the Lusitania materials, but also other items related to the Great War.

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Most encouraging of all, after reviewing his library and chatting with him a bit, he told me that he was interested in eventually gifting to us his entire collection, telling me that we should consider it “our library on loan to him.” Located in the “cruise capital of the world, the Wolfsonian-FIU can look forward to strengthening our holdings and becoming the repository for ocean liner-related works once other items such as these come to us as a bequest.

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Not content to let me go empty-handed, Tom immediately placed in my care a Moore-McCormack menu to add to his collection, a catalog for an exhibition on German travel posters, and a rare book about the famous Art Deco liner, the Normandie.

S S  Argentina Menu front cover 800

Rund um die welt 800 front cover

Normandie front cover 800

This last book proved to be particularly useful as an interior page documents the first-class smoking salon decorated with a bas-relief titled: La Chasse [The Hunt] designed by Swiss artist Jean Dunand (1877-1942). The artist produced a number of limited editions of his maquettes and made two larger versions of carved, lacquered, and gilded plaster for Madame Chadwick. These were donated to The Wolfsonian by the Frederick and Patricia Supper Foundation in Palm Beach, and presently are on display in our fifth floor museum gallery.

Normandie Panel high def 800

After a most hospitable meeting in the Hamptons, it was back to Port Jefferson and a sunset ferry ride back to New England.

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~ by "The Chief" on August 3, 2013.

3 Responses to “TITANIC EXPECTATIONS: A VISIT WITH WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY SUPPORTERS”

  1. utterly and endlessly cativating

  2. What a generous donation of attractive items perfect for exhibitions (besides being valuable for serious researchers). Congratulations to both the donor and youall as recipients.

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