Collecting Delaware Books
Delaware architectural books make an interesting collection. There are a great many to choose from. This article lists a few of the older ones. It is not an exhaustive list by any means, but shows the variety of available books.
The premier collectible in this category is Early Architecture of Delaware by George Fletcher Bennett, published by the Historical Press, Inc. in 1932. The original is quite valuable, but there is a recent undated reprint by Bonanza Books, New York. The book contains 300 photographs of buildings and building details and 32 pages of measured drawings. It is primarily a picture book. The entire state is represented, but New Castle County predominates.
Coverage is much broader in Historic Houses and Buildings of Delaware by Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Cortlandt V. D. Hubbard, published by the Public Archive Commission, Dover, in 1962. The second edition is dated 1963 and is comparatively rare. Almost 200 buildings are shown in excellent photographs. This book usually sells for over $100 in collectible condition.
An old standard is John M. Hammond's 1914 book Colonial Mansions of Maryland and Delaware. There are few pictures and the halftone reproduction is not up to modern standards. The text is informative on the few Delaware buildings covered.
Land of the Evergreen by John William Robertson, M. D. covers the entire peninsula, but 33 pages are devoted to Delaware. It was published in 1963 by the Eastern Shore News, Inc. of Onancock, Virginia. Both historic and modern public buildings are pictured.
New Castle Delaware 1651-1939 with text by Anthony Higgins and photographs by Bayard Wootten, published in 1939 by The Riverside Press, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, is a beautiful book. It is 9.5 by 13.5 inches, and many of the 47 black-and-white photographs are reproduced full-page.
The reproduction of Woottens photographs is excellent. Her full range of tones and deep, luminous blacks make the pictures works of art. All are of New Castle buildings and interiors and are free of distortion and converging vertical sometimes seen in architectural photography.
The book was the production of the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities and its president, Mary Wilson Thompson. Frank E. Schoonover, Laussat R. Rogers, and Albert Kruse are listed as Delaware artists who helped with the project. The long list of guarantors and advance subscribers reads like whos-who-in-Delaware.
Anthony Higgins was one of the members of the Depression-era Delaware Federal Writers Project which was responsible for Delaware: A Guide to the First State and several other books. He was well known in historical circles. His 24-page history of New Castle, which constitutes the introduction to New Castle Delaware 1651-1939, covers the usual ground. One interesting insight is Higgins contention that New Castle owes its preservation to poverty. Residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were too poor to upgrade their homes to Victorian fashion.
Bayard Wilson had established a reputation for scholarly photography, having illustrated Backwoods America, 1934, by Charles Morrow Wilson and Cabins in the Laurel, 1935, by Muriel Earley Sheppard, both published by the University of North Carolina Press at Chapel Hill. The first book dealt with the people and folklore of the Missouri and Arkansas Ozark Mountains the second covered the same subjects in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
There were 765 copies printed of which 750 autographed (by Wootten and Higgins) and numbered copies were for sale. The book is not rare, however its impressive format commands a high price. Copies usually sell for at least $100.
Not all architectural books are illustrated with photographs. Some of the more evocative use sketches, pen and ink, watercolor, or wash. The books of Nancy C. Sawin, listed in the April 1992 issue of Collecting Delaware Books, include many pen and ink drawings of buildings.
Betty Harrington Macdonald did a regular column for the Wilmington News Journal about historic buildings. These were collected in Historic Landmarks of Delaware and the Eastern Shore, published by the Delaware State Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists and edited by Jeannette Eckman. There were editions in October 1963, December 1963, and June 1976. Eighty-three Delaware buildings are illustrated in pen and ink and described in text.
Jack Lewis's The Delaware Scene is illustrated with 13 watercolors and over 100 wash drawings. The subject matter is not all architectural. Kent and Sussex Counties predominate. The artist conveys the feel of Delaware's small towns and shore better than any photograph can.
Albert Kruse did the lithographs and his sister Gertrude wrote the text for New Castle Sketches, first published in 1932 by the University of Pennsylvania Press. This small book is a Delaware classic with its 14 plates. There were many editions and printings. The Greenwood Bookshop edition of 1951 includes an additional plate as a frontispiece.
There are many books and pamphlets about specific buildings. For example, John A. H. Sweeney's Grandeur on the Appoquinimink, which has recently been reissued, describes the William Corbit home in Odessa.
One unexpected source is the dry sounding State of Delaware Intrastate Water Resources Survey, 1969. Covering far more than water resources, this book has an excellent checklist of historic buildings and a small number of photographs.
Town histories, church histories, state publications, travel and historical magazines, stereopticon cards, and postcards are other valuable architectural sources. If your town is not well documented architecturally, perhaps it is time to organize the local amateur historians and photographers. — JPR