Secondary Works in the Arts

The Society's Y classification comprises modern secondary works on American fine, decorative, and applied arts from the colonial era through the American Centennial. The section is divided into sixty-three subdivisions. Within the fine arts, books on painting, sculpture, and the graphic arts are emphasized. The decorative arts subdivision covers a large assortment of subjects: antiques, brassware, candlesticks and candles, chinaware, clocks and watches, copperware, costumes, decoration, decoys, firearms, firebacks, furniture, glassware, ironwork, kitchenware, lamps, needlework, pewter, pottery, powder horns, quilts, rugs, silver, stencils, swords, textiles, tinware, and woodenware. Within the applied arts division are books on bells, buttons, ship models, signs, stoves, tools, toys, and wallpaper. This classification also includes material on printed ephemera: advertising, autograph albums, bookplates, numismatic material, playing cards, political collectibles, post cards, posters, silhouettes, stamps, stereographs, trade cards, and valentines. Although a reader might well expect the Society to collect only secondary works relating to the art holdings of the institution, the collecting policy is, in fact, very broad.

Traditionally, scholarship in the fine arts and in the major decorative arts of furniture, textiles, and silver has been very strong. In recent years, scholarship in the related fields mentioned above has been improving, largely in response to the intense interest in American material culture by individual collectors, museums, and scholars. Although the Society keeps abreast of current scholarship, it does not acquire collectors' guides to prices and similar publications that become dated within months of publication. Exhibition catalogs are collected as they are published, and older exhibition catalogs are purchased if they seem to be significant additions to the literature in the field. James H. and Georgia B. Barnhill have established a fund for the purchase of books on American art.

Related to this classification but housed separately is the collection of art auction catalogs, which in themselves are useful research tools. This collection is annotated in American Art Auction Catalogues, 1785-1942: A Union List (New York, 1944), compiled by Harold Lancour. Biographies of artists are housed in the biography section of the library; books and pamphlets related to the fine or decorative arts of a state or smaller geographical unit are usually cataloged in the local history section. It is, therefore, impossible to arrive at a total figure for the Society's holdings related to the arts. As an approximation, however, there are about 4,500 volumes and pamphlets shelved in this classification alone.

- Georgia B. Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Emerita

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