Collecting Delaware Books
One of Delaware's treasures is the Curtis Paper Company of Newark. Over the years, Curtis has issued many publications of interest to the collector.
In 1789 Thomas Meeteer established a paper mill at what became the Curtis site on White Clay Creek. Meeteer's heirs sold the mill to several members of the Curtis family from Massachusetts in 1848. The company passed out of family hands in 1926, and in 1977 became a subsidiary of papermaking giant, the James River Corporation of Richmond, Virginia.
An excellent technical and financial history of the company is The Curtis Paper Company: From Thomas Meeteer to the James River Corporation by Constance Cooper, published by The Cedar Tree Press, Wilmington, in 1991 in an edition of 1000. A second printing of 500 copies of this 64-page hardbound book was issued in 1993. Any collector of Curtis material needs this handsome book for its historical framework.
Over the years, Curtis has manufactured many kinds of paper, even including raw material for electrical insulation made by the local vulcanized fiber industry. However, the company is best known for its high-quality paper for fine printing. It is to show off these papers that Curtis produced or commissioned many booklets. These have become collectibles today.
Best-known are the pamphlets of the Americana series. A 6¼" by 9¼" booklet of 20 to 40 pages was issued annually from 1954 to 1970. Most were edited, arranged, annotated, or written by Earl Schenck Miers (1910-1972). All but a few were illustrated with woodcuts, wood engravings, drawings, or calligraphy by known artists. One used photographs. A variety of typefaces and papers was used. The printing appears to be by letterpress.
The Americana series is not uniform in details of design. The first two issues bear no series number. The colophon styles differ, though most credit The Spiral Press, New York, as printer. All the title pages indicate the booklets were published for "the friends of the Curtis Paper Company, Newark, Delaware."
[1.] George Washington's Farewell Address to His Countrymen. 1954. Consisting of 20 unnumbered pages, this is the plainest of the series, lacking illustrations except for a few printer's ornaments.
[2.] The Declaration of Independence as Written by Thomas Jefferson. 1955.
3. The Fundamental Creed of Abraham Lincoln. 1956.
4. Seed of Liberty. 1957. Issued in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia.
5. The Fundamental Creed of Robert E. Lee. 1958. This is one of the nicest looking of the series and is based on the writings of Lee, annotated by Miers.
6. In Behalf of Parents. 1959. "A selection to comfort and counsel the Beat Generation, from the letters and speeches of Richard Lingard, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt."
7. Arctic Sun and Tropic Moon. 1960. This is the cover title. The title page title is Vitus Bering and James Cook Discover Alaska and Hawaii." A foldout map is included, which the colophon states was lithographed.
8. Wash Roebling's War. 1961. A selection of unpublished Civil War letters from famous engineer (he and his father built the Brooklyn Bridge) Washington Augustus Roebling (1837-1926).
9. America At Ease. 1962. A collection of horse racing, steamboat racing, baseball, boxing, and football stories.
10. Father of Waters. 1963. Stories of the Mississippi River.
11. On, Pale Rider. 1964. The story of Caesar Rodney's ride and its aftermath, written by Miers who drew from several standard sources. This booklet is illustrated with photographs of Caesar Rodney statues in Wilmington and Washington.
12. Border Romance: The Story of the Exploits of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. 1965.
13. Golden Slipper: The Story of Philadelphia and Its Mummers' Parade. 1966.
14. The Drowned River: Story of the Chesapeake Bay. 1967.
15. Paradise Point: New Sweden on the Delaware. 1968.
16. The Susquehanna River and Legend. 1969.
17. Horse Sense. 1970. Horse racing in America, especially Kentucky. In all respects this appears to be part of the Americana series, but it bears the information "Kentucky Culture Series."
Collecting a complete set of the Curtis Americana series in nice condition would be a goodly enterprise. The search need not be limited to Delaware, however: the booklets were distributed nationally to customers of paper wholesalers. Many wholesalers put in their own letters of transmittal.
But the collector of Curtis issues has a far wider range of material to search for. The company put out numerous sample books and folders. Prints and maps were issued to show the utility of Curtis paper. There was an internal company newsletter, the Curtis Gazette, from 1946 to 1970. Fortune magazine as well as many fine books were printed on Curtis paper, a fact noted in many colophons.
No complete bibliography of Curtis issues exists. The Cooper book has an extensive bibliography and should be the first reference for the collector. Additional items are listed in the online card catalog (DELCAT) of the University of Delaware's Morris Library and the catalogs of other libraries in the state.
No price guidance is available either. However, some issues, especially those relating to the art of the book, are of interest to other than Delawareana collectors.