Thursday, April 1, 2010

Founder's Day Celebration: Happy Birthday, Mr. Clements!

On April 1, the Clements Library celebrates the birth of our founder, William L. Clements (1861-1934). This tradition was first recorded in the Clements Library Annual Report for 1937-1938: 
"Our new period started with the ceremony which in years to come we hope may become one of the Library's traditions. On April 1, 1938, the anniversary of Mr. Clements' birth, there was a formal meeting at the Library of members of Mr. Clements' family, some of his own intimate friends, and representatives of the University book men and the administration."
Over the years, the Library has observed Founder's Day in a variety of ways. Past celebrations have included a Founder's Day Tea attended by friends of the Library, guest speakers on topics related to Mr. Clements' interests, and even a dance performance. In 1953, Richard S. Wormser spoke on the subject of "Literary Hoaxes" and revealed a humorous episode in Clements Library history:

In 1943, Dr. Randolph Adams, first director of the Clements Library, was the target of an elaborate prank by his assistant Howard H. Peckham. Peckham, then at work on his biography of the Ottawa chief Pontiac, knew that Adams' knowledge of the Ottawa language was limited to one word: Pontiac's Indian name Obwandiyag.

Peckham recalled, "Around the Clements Library we had bits of blank eighteenth-century paper, and I owned a printing press that was a couple steps above a toy. I don't know how I happened to think of trying to print a bookplate for Chief Pontiac in the Ottawa language." He called a specialist in the Ottawa language to find out the translation of "his book" or "ex libris," and found a phrase that could be translated as "from his bookcase." Peckham then printed up a few bookplates on the authentic paper and gave one to an autograph dealer who was visiting Adams, explaining the hoax. The dealer handed the bookplate to Adams, who examined it and recognized the name of Pontiac.

Peckham, standing nearby, cheerfully suggested, "It must be something a Detroit trader had printed for him. Why don't you call Greenman. He knows Ottawa and Chippewa." When Adams called and received the translation, he exclaimed, "My God! It's his bookplate!" At this, Peckham and the autograph dealer could no longer contain their laughter, and Peckham confessed to the hoax.

The entire story is recounted in Charles Hamilton's Great Forgers and Famous Fakes (1980). The bookplate itself, which can be found in the Clements Library Forgery Collection, was featured in a Library of Congress exhibit in 1950 on "Forgeries, Facsimiles, and Questioned Documents." For more information, see one of the original bookplates by Howard Peckham, the replica printed for Founder's Day in 1953, and a guide to the Facsimiles and Forgeries exhibit by the Clements Library.

Caption from Library of Congress exhibit:

PONTIAC. Forgery. Ogima Obwandiyag omasinaigani-tessabang [Chief Pontiac from his Book case]. 1 page, oblong 16mo.
*** Pontiac owned a book; ergo, he had a bookplate. Exhibited by Colton Storm, Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

After the 1970s, the tradition of Founder's Day was discontinued for a number of years, before the Library decided to reinstitute it in 2009.

The 2010 Founder's Day celebration will feature Nicholas Basbanes, author of A Gentle Madness, with a talk entitled "Further Adventures Among the Gently Mad." Today in the Main Room of the Clements Library, 4:00 pm.

Pamphlet copies of the 2009 Founder's Day address by Professor Martha S. Jones, "Confessions of an Archives Rat," will be available.

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