The Edwin Atlee Barber records include both general and administrative correspondence from Barber’s tenure at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. The Museum's name changed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1938. Materials date from 1898 to 1933. Included in the collection are letters sent to Barber after his death; some of these letters were answered by Barber’s wife or daughter. This collection contains correspondence covering a broad range of topics and is especially rich in correspondence regarding acquisitions, appraisal, and the identification and authentication of artifacts. Consequently, the files also include rubbings of identification marks, tracings of patterns and sketches and photographs of artifacts. This collection also provides considerable information about day-to-day decisions that Barber made regarding staffing, building maintenance, acquisitions, publications, and exhibitions; as a result, the files include blueprints, measured drawings, and paper and fabric samples.
Overall, Barber’s correspondence provides information about Barber’s role as both Curator/Director and administrator of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art and his activities as a scholar. This material would be useful to anyone interested in museum history of the early 20th century, in the history of collecting and connoisseurship, the history of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or Edwin Atlee Barber.
The records are divided into two series: “I. General correspondence” and “II. Administrative correspondence.”
Series “I. General correspondence” is divided into two subseries: “a. 1901 to 1911” and “b. 1912 to 1916." The files in each subseries are then arranged alphabetically. The folders in series “II. Administrative correspondence” are arranged alphabetically and, in some cases, a single correspondent's file may be further arranged chronologically. Processors have preserved the existing folder arrangement (presumably carried over from the original filing system maintained by Barber's record keepers) and merely augmented existing folder titles when needed. Quotation marks in folder titles are used to indicate language used by previous record keepers. The alphabetization system is idiosyncratic, with some correspondence filed by name, others by institutions or subject, and still others by geographic location (for example The Art Institute of Chicago is filed as Chicago, the Art Institute of). In the two subseries, inclusive dates may be different from what the subseries name indicates. Some correspondents also appear in both series.
Subseries "a. 1901 to 1911" and "b. 1911 to 1916" contain correspondence relating to Barber’s many duties associated with the Museum. These subseries are similar in content and are divided by date ranges. As head of the Museum’s Bureau of Identification, Barber offered authentication and appraisal of artifacts—most often ceramic objects, on which he was an authority. Both of these subseries include documentation of art objects in the form of photographs, drawings, and rubbings. Barber corresponded with scholars, collectors, dealers of art and antiques, Philadelphia city officials, publishers, and directors of other museums, as well those with ties to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. His correspondents include: members of the Associate Committee of Women; the Commissioners of Fairmount Park and co-administrators of Memorial Hall; Charles E. Dana; Mrs. William D. Frismuth, Honorary Curator of Musical Instruments; Henry Charles Lea; John D. McIlhenny (Board Member of the Museum); Samuel Robineau, of the Keramic Studio Publishing Company; Theodore Search (President of the Board of Trustees); and Howard F. Stratton (Director of the Art Department of the School); and the Walpole Society, which was dedicated to the study of American decorative arts, architecture, and history. There is a brief, but notable, correspondence with Henry Chapman Mercer, historian, president of the Bucks County Historical Society, and head of the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. The correspondence with Mercer spans from 1913 to 1916 and relates to cast iron stove plates and furnaces, as well as the book Mercer was writing on the subject. Also of interest is the brief exchange between Barber and William H. Holmes, Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. This correspondence relates to Barber's last exhibition and catalog for the museum: Exhibition of "Fakes" and Reproductions .
Series “II. Administrative correspondence” dates from 1901 to 1917 and is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. The records contain extensive correspondence with six notable members of the Museum community: James L. Allan, Assistant Treasurer; John Story Jenks, Vice President of the Board of Trustees and art collector; John D. McIlhenny, Board of Trustees; Leslie Miller, Principal of the School of Industrial Art; and John T. Morris, Vice President of the Board of Trustees and art collector. Allan wrote mainly of checks received and requesting checks to be sent. Jenks, identified as “Chairman”, wrote to authorize expenditures at all levels—from trolley placards to fine furniture. Correspondence with McIlhenny and Morris deals with assessing and approving acquisitions and negotiating the payments for them. Miller wrote regarding both School and Museum matters. This series also contains letters from William Platt Pepper written to Barber. Pepper was a lawyer who served as Vice President of the Corporation and Managing Director of the Museum from 1876 to 1878, President from 1882 to 1897, and “Director” and Vice President from 1898 to 1907. After Pepper’s death in 1907, the title of the Chief Officer of the Museum was changed from Curator to Director. Pepper’s letters deal mainly with acquisitions (including the Bloomfield Moore Collection), exhibitions, publications, Board and Committee Meetings, and personal matters. Pepper conducted Museum business from his law office or from home; most of the letters are on stationery indicating he was the Executor of the Estate of Henry Seybert, or on stationary from his home at 1730 Chestnut Street. Pepper’s letters were removed from a letterbook and were conserved and arranged chronologically. Although the bulk of “II. Administrative Correspondence” dates from Barber’s tenure as Director of the Museum (1907 to 1916); Barber was the Museum’s Curator while corresponding with Pepper.