Special Collections and University Archives

by Mark Schumacher

I came to work as a reference librarian at UNCG in the summer of 1978. My background was French literature, and as a graduate student in Buffalo, I had worked in a university library, but with little experience with special collections.  As I was settling into my work, I began to learn early about the resources in our Special Collection department, including the Girls Books in Series and the American Trade Binding collections. When I learned that there were many items we were looking for in these two sets, I asked if there was a list of books that were needed or sought after. Having those lists was very helpful and I still have a copy of the Girls Books list, which I consult when bidding or buying on eBay.

Mark Schumacher

One of the finest, or amazing, moments in the search for girls series items came many years ago, in a Corning, New York bookstore, which focused on series books, for both boys and girls.  I found about 25-30 items we needed, which came to about $400!!  Since then I have found items the library wanted in scores of places. I bought a book from a woman in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the 1990’s, and surprisingly she invited me to come visit her. I went and took some books I thought she might like, and we traded a number of volumes.

The series in this collection vary a lot, from well-known titles like Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins, which we have practically completed,  to The Blue Grass Seminary Girls, which is made up of four books all published in 1916. It is always great to come across an item that the collection needs. My latest find is “Our Little Hungarian Cousin,” one in a set of 85 titles!

Our Little Hungarian Cousin, Mary F. Nixon-Roulet

My interest in the binding collection began many years ago, after I saw an exhibit in the Reading Room. I had not known much about the subject nor the various book cover designers. Seeing how striking these books were, I quickly became interested in tracking down items we were looking to add to our collection. As I learned about designers, I found the work of Amy Sacker (1872-1965) both fascinating and little studied. Then I came across an article by Anne O’Donnell and later I found her Master’s thesis on Amy’s work. Although I have found and donated books designed by Margaret Armstrong, Sarah Whitman, Bertha Stuart (I have found 19 covers that she did), and others, my major focus has been on Amy Sacker.

Tracking down information on her work as a binding designer, a book illustrator and a bookplate artist, led me to encounter two interesting people.  Linda Belfield, from New Jersey, who had found a portrait done by Amy Sacker at a yard sale, called me to ask if it might be a forgery. She sent me a photo and it seemed to be fine. In fact, I have a photo of a 1949 art show Amy did for a Boston gallery, with Amy looking it over. [See below] Incredibly, a few days later, Linda, incredibly kind, gave me the portrait.  You can see it at 

I have since given it to the Special Collections department, where it will hang in the Reading Room.

Amy Sacker at Boston art show, 1949

The other person I met was Fran Rogers, a grand-niece of Amy Sacker. She had seen my website and got in touch. After emailing back and forth, she invited me to come visit her in Tennessee. I took some items to give to her and she had lots of information about her great-aunt, including correspondence from Amy’s later life and bookplates Amy designed for family members [see]. Fran also provided the 1949 photo seen above, taken in the Vose Gallery, which had opened in the mid-19th century.  She very kindly gave me a number of her items for my collection and my research.

Manders, Elwyn Barron

Given my interest in bindings, I came across a few designers we had not known about. Charlotte Harding (1873-1951) was also an illustrator, as was Mabel Betsy Hill (b. 1877). Ralph Fletcher Seymour (1876-1966) also ran the Alderbrink Press in Chicago for many years. A blog article about these designers, with images of their covers, can be seen at

I have donated some other items: a limited edition of a 1903 Oscar Wilde play and some material from the author Nick Bantock, whom I got to know long ago, due to our similar interest in stamp collecting. I shall continue to look for items like these that we want in our collections. It is an exciting activity, and I really enjoy it.

  1. Kathryn C Sarr says:

    Excellent article. I wish I had known about your library’s interest in graphic cover designs. At the Friends of the Palo Alto Library we often receive such books (or did) in our children’s collection. I’ll pass this article along to the people who curate that section, but perhaps you can send me the specific types of book covers you are interested in. And how does one determine who a book cover designer was if one is not familiar with their work?

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