Friday, March 4, 2011

Mr. Small Goes To Washington

Unrivaled Collection of "Washingtoniana" Donated To D.C. University.

By Nancy Mattoon

Dinner Napkin: "Plan of the City of Washington, in the
of Columbia" (n.d.).
Rare handkerchief map of the city of Washington based on the Samuel Hill engraving of Andrew Ellicott’s plan. Printed in red ink on cotton cloth. Allegorical corner vignettes of Indians, foliage, and a sailing ship. Printed in Boston and sold in Washington as a souvenir. Artist: After design of Andrew Ellicott; Publisher: Samuel Hill, Boston, Mass.
(All Images Courtesy Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection.)

A single man's lifelong dedication to collecting materials about his hometown is about to benefit scholars everywhere. Albert H. Small, a prominent Washington, D.C. real estate developer, has just donated his extensive archives of Washington history to George Washington University. He's also kicked in a little money to renovate a historic home to house his collection, $5 million to be exact. A career collector and philanthropist, Small received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2009 from President Obama. This award was for "his devotion to sharing early American manuscripts with our Nation’s cultural and educational institutions... His generosity has helped educate countless Americans about those who founded our country."

Jigsaw Puzzle: "The Capitol at Washington,"
McLoughlin Bro., New York.
(Color Lithograph, 1888).

Lithograph used as a puzzle, mounted on cardboard, shows east front of Capitol with pedestrians and carriages.

According to Chris Coover, senior specialist, books and manuscripts, at Christie’s in New York, "Albert Small, a native Washingtonian, has methodically assembled the single most significant and extensive collection in private hands relating to the history and development of Washington and the District of Columbia. Small’s remarkable collection – some 50 years in the making and impossible to duplicate today – is a treasure trove of rare maps, drawings, letters and documents, lithographs, books and ephemera, and is a testament to his passionate enthusiasm as a collector."

Letter from George Washington
to Congress Dec. 13, 1791. (signed).

Text reads: "I place before you the plan of a City that has been laid out within the District of ten miles square, which was fixed upon for the permanent seat of the Government of the United States."

The collection is comprised of nearly 700 items, including a letter written by George Washington to Congress in 1791 outlining the ten square miles designated as the new capital city of the United States. James M. Goode, a historian who helped Small assemble many of the maps, prints and photographs in the archive explains, "He collects through auctions, print shows and catalogs. He must get 400 catalogs a year. The rarer the material, the more excited he gets. The Washington letter got away once. About 30 years ago the letter was at auction and... it went to Malcolm Forbes. When Forbes died, it went up on auction again and Mr. Small bought it."

Civil War Camp Flag. (1861, Wool Fabric).
This small U.S. flag was used before an officer’s tent in the field during the civil war. It is known as a camp flag. This example has a rare arrangement of 34 starts in a "circle-in-a-square" medallion. In the center is a large single star flanked by 3 stars, which form a "Y", surrounded by a wreath of 14 stars, the remaining line the border to create a square. Kansas was admitted as the 235th state in 1861 and West Virginia in 1863.
Flag should be displayed vertically.

Small was insistent that the collection be kept intact. "George Washington [University] has had a division on Washington history in their American Studies program for 40 years. He decided that was the best place for it because it will be used for research by the students," said Goode. George Washington University President Steven Knapp says the collection will provide "unparalleled opportunities not only for our current students and scholars but also for future generations to study the history of our nation through the study of this nation’s capital."

"Encampment Georgetown D.C. 1861."
(Watercolor by Augustus Kollner).

The donation to the University builds on Mr. Small’s long history of preserving and sharing America’s heritage. In 2005, he donated the earliest known image of the house at Washington D.C.'s 1600 Pennsylvania Ave– a watercolor done in 1801 by J. Benford – to the White House, where it now hangs. The University of Virginia was the recipient in 2004 of Small’s collection on the Declaration of Independence, where it is housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

"Bust Portrait of Abraham Lincoln."
Photographed by Alexander Gardner.

Black and White Photo, 18 Nov 1863.
Albumen print taken from original glass negative, limited edition of 75 copies #49.

Albert H. Small himself has spoken of the importance of his gift. "I have been building this collection for 50, almost 60 years. I wanted to place it somewhere where it could get the best exposure for people. George Washington is going to set up a program for the study of the collection. And every year another group of students will use it and it will be a continuing thing...Most people don't know this history. You can be an average person and not know anything about the history of the city. We have a real thriving capital now, but back in 1790 it was a swamp."

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