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Dalton Dorr Records

Identifier: DOR

Scope and Contents

The series “Museum Letter books” contains Dalton Dorr’s correspondence, arranged in alphabetical order. The incoming correspondence, mainly directed to Dorr, was originally kept in the museum’s Letter Books; the outgoing correspondence remains in the Letter Press Books. Indices exist for each book in this series. The Letter Books, dated February 1876 to December 1901, contained tissue-paper copies of outgoing museum correspondence. The outgoing letters were dampened and pressed into a book of tissue-paper leaves, which transferred an ink copy onto that page. The inks used were very stable, as they needed to withstand the transfer process and yet retain sufficient ink on the outgoing letter. Not all of the outgoing correspondence was copied; routine answers to queries were not usually copied in this manner. The first commercial typewriter was publicly introduced at the Centennial Exposition and carbon paper came into popular usage around 1901. Typewritten letters on carbon paper replaced the Letter Press books in the museum’s records.

The sub-series “Incoming” makes up the bulk of this collection and it dates from 1876 to 1904. These letters were originally compiled into sixteen bound volumes. Documents were numbered, usually in the upper right corner, with red ink. These numbers correspond to those found in the indices. Since the letters varied widely in size and format, they were not necessarily arranged and numbered in chronological order. This accounts for some of the sequential inconsistencies in the date ranges of the indices. Each volume’s index was removed and filed with its associated correspondence when the books were dismantled. Folder titles were assigned date ranges by a previous record keeper, but these indicate a bulk range rather than the exact range contained within. This sub-series includes letters of William Platt Pepper and William W. Justice. Justice was Managing Director of the museum from 1879 to 1880, as well as a member of the Board of Trustees. A large portion of the correspondence from the year 1876 regards acquisitions and donations of collections from exhibitors at the Centennial. Many letters were addressed to William Platt Pepper, museum Director and Coleman Sellers, museum President. Notable correspondents include Samuel G. Dixon and E. D. Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences and Robert M. Lamborn, the Latin American art collector. An exchange with Lamborn concerns the presentation of his collection within the museum in an art historical context rather than Lamborn’s original anthropological perspective.

The sub-series “Outgoing” contains Dorr’s outgoing correspondence and dates from 1876 to 1901; 1901 was the year of his death. These letters were originally bound in four volumes, numbered 1 to 4. Volumes 1 to 3 are handwritten letter press copy books, and Volume 4 also contains typewritten carbon copies of letters. The copy books were created by Philadelphia stationer Wm. F. Murphy’s Sons with integral indices. These remain bound in the volumes and have been completed with the names of recipients along with corresponding page numbers. Many of the recipients were donors or potential donors and other museum administrators, such as William Platt Pepper. This correspondence regards specific objects in the museum’s collection, facilities and administration of Memorial Hall as well as the School of Industrial Art, which had moved to its location on Broad and Pine Streets during Dorr’s tenure.

All letters in the series “Separated correspondence” were removed from the original bound volume they were once adhered to, and no index exists. This series dates from 1893 to 1901.

Sub-series “Edwin Atlee Barber” dates from 1893 to 1901 and consists of Barber’s correspondence with Dorr while Barber was the Honorary Curator of Pottery; a numbering system was added to Barber’s letters in 1987 and they are arranged chronologically. For more information on Barber, researchers should consult the Edwin Atlee Barber Records.

Sub-series “William Platt Pepper” contains Pepper’s correspondence with Dorr; the letters date from 1893 to 1901 and are arranged chronologically. Pepper, a lawyer, was 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 with acquisitions, including the Bloomfield Moore Collection, the collections, exhibitions, the staff, Board meetings, and museum Committee meetings, and personal matters. He conducted museum business from his law office (most of the letters are on stationery indicating that he was the Executor of the Estate of Henry Seybert) or from his home at 1730 Chestnut Street.


  • 1876-1904


Language of Materials

There are materials in English, German, French and Japanese.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Dalton Dorr Records are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes as stated.

Biographical / Historical

Dalton Dorr was the first Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. The museum, a legacy of the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, was first located in the Exhibition’s Art Gallery, Memorial Hall, in Fairmount Park. The Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art was chartered in February 1876, establishing "a Museum of Art, in all its branches and technical application, and with a special view to the development of the Art Industries of the State, to provide instruction in drawing, painting, modeling, designing, etc., through practical schools, special libraries, lectures and otherwise." The doors of Memorial Hall were reopened to the public on May 10, 1877 as the Pennsylvania Museum, exactly one year after the inauguration of the Centennial Exposition.

The position of museum Director grew out of the position of Curator--in fact, the first Curator, Dalton Dorr, was appointed Director in 1892. In this capacity, Dorr presumably performed the duties of Director, Secretary, and Curator simultaneously, until 1899 when William Platt Pepper was elected Director. Dorr then continued simply as Secretary and Curator until his death in 1901.

The early collections consisted of objects of an industrial nature, as well as fine and decorative arts. The first three museum departments were: Textiles, Lace and Embroidery, Pottery, and Numismatics. Under Dorr’s direction, several notable collections were donated to the museum; these included the Robert W. Lewis gifts and bequests of Oriental ceramics and metalwork, the Bloomfield Moore Collection of Decorative Arts, the General Hector Tyndale Memorial Collection of ceramics, and the W. P. Wilstach collection and endowment. Another important development was the creation of the Associate Committee of Women (later known as the Women’s Committee) in 1893, led by Elizabeth Duane Gillespie (the great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin). The Committee contributed significant funds to the museum and to the school.


4.25 linear feet (10 Document boxes)


Dalton Dorr played a key role in the early years of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (later known as the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Dorr was elected Secretary of the Corporation in 1880. In 1888 he acted as both Secretary and Curator, and by 1892 he was performing the duties of Secretary, Director, and Curator. In 1899 William Platt Pepper took over as Director of the museum, and Dorr continued on as Curator and Secretary. Dalton Dorr died on February 26, 1901. Shortly after, Edwin AtLee Barber assumed the roles of Secretary and Curator. This collection contains letter books, dating from 1876 to 1904, containing the correspondences of Dorr, Pepper, and Barber. The correspondence pertains to the Centennial exposition, museum collections, acquisitions, exhibitions, staff, and repairs to Memorial Hall, as well as information regarding the formation of the museum and its associated schools.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection was microfilmed by the American Archives of Art in 1954 (reel numbers 4549, 4550 to 4559). Copies are available for use in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's library.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Carey Hedlund and Alina Josan. The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. This collection was minimally processed in 2013-2014, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories.


Guide to the Dalton Dorr Records
Finding aid prepared by Carey Hedlund, Alina Josan
2013 November 12
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States