Inside the Booth Library

For all of us who are confined to quarters and find ourselves condemned to read from our own library, let me invite you into George and Ellen Booth’s ample domain. Those of you who know Cranbrook House, the Booths’ Albert Kahn mansion, will have visited the library or attended events there. Perhaps your attention was more taken up by the Herter tapestry or the Kirchmeyer overmantel than by what is on the actual shelves, but art aside, let’s look at the books.

George Booth may well have had a jobber buying books for him to fill those shelves, and he certainly would have been aware of the 1909 Collier’s Harvard Classics, consisting of all the books Harvard President Charles Eliot deemed essential background reading for an educated man of substance.

Cranbrook House library, 1920.

View of the south end of the Cranbrook House library, 1920. Photo by John Wallace Gillies. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

So, books to impress and accessorize, yes, but now we need to read: we want to be lost in a book that takes us away from this turbulent world. What’s on offer? We will skip Dante’s Inferno, however much we may feel it appropriate, and pick some things at random which you can read either through your e-reader or your library access to Hoopla! and which may do the trick.

Nonfiction: Sven Hedin’s Through Asia. Remember Sven Hedin from Carl Milles’s sculpture at the Institute of Science?

Carl Milles's "Sven Hedin" sculpture, which sits beside the reflecting pool at the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Carl Milles’s “Sven Hedin” (1932), which sits beside the reflecting pool at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Hedin was a Swedish explorer of Central Asia in the 1920s. His accounts are absorbing and illustrated copiously by Hedin himself. Read Hedlin here.

Who doesn’t love the memoirs of a spy? Here comes Bruce Lockhart’s best-selling Memoirs of a British Agent, his 1932 account of diplomatic shenanigans in Moscow, trying to keep Russia in the war against Germany in 1918. This was the book to be reading in 1933. Purchase Lockhart here.

British Agent from Booth Library

Memoirs of a British Agent in the Booth Library, 11th Printing, 1933. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

This next one is really quite a story and a book I knew nothing about. On the Booth shelves it is called A German Prince and His Victim, but in Google Play you will find it as Memoirs of a Young Greek Lady. This is no novel but the autobiographical account of a 14-year-old girl and her abduction by Prince Ernest of Saxe-Coburg. The Coburgs, though minor princelings in theory, ended up marrying into all the royal families of Europe including Russia. This good duke was the philandering father of Queen Victoria’s Albert, and not at all of the same character. If you have watched the PBS series, Victoria, you will remember that the brothers Ernest and Albert were embarrassed that their father was their father. The writing is histrionic, to say the least, but the story is riveting, the duke dreadful, the girl tenacious: the forerunner to reports you will find in newspapers today. I have to say I was mesmerized by this story and gobbled it up. Read the memoirs here.

Ernst_I,_Duke_of_Saxe-Coburg_and_Gotha_-_Dawe_1818-19

Portrait of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, by George Dawe, 1819.  Courtesy of The Royal Collection.

And novels: I was glad to see that the Booths have a copy of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.  I am told there is a great TV serialization of this comédie humaine, but the book contains everything you will ever need to know about human nature, told with humor and restraint. The writers of the TV serialization of Sanditon, the would-be adaptation of the Jane Austen tale, have certainly borrowed from this novel. Read Thackeray here.

Vanity Fair from Booth Library

Vanity Fair title page in the Booth Library, from The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray Vol. I, 1878. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

If you have never read these books, you should; the stories are magnificent and the nineteenth century novelistic version of the action movie, and quite possibly the archetype of swashbuckling in movies or anywhere else: The Three Musketeers series by Alexandre Dumas. They are a great read for young adults too. Read Dumas here.

One of the twenty-one illustrations of "The Three Musketeers" by A. J. Lalauze in the Collection of the Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1955.360.15).

One of the twenty-one illustrations of “The Three Musketeers” by A. J. Lalauze in the Collection of the Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1955.360.15).

Family time. Try reading Sheridan’s The Rivals out loud. It’s a challenge but very funny. This play has the great Mrs. Malaprop who manages to misuse words in a most perplexing fashion. Your reading out loud will improve immeasurably, and you may even find that some of the expressions find their way in your life. Read Sheridan here.

Malapropism from GRE Word of the Day

A malapropism courtesy of GRE Word of the Day.

There are lots of great reads in the Booth library, whether intentionally collected or not.  We are just scratching the surface here!

Just a note: the books remaining on the library shelves today represent only a portion of the Booth collection, many of the more notable volumes being housed in the Academy of Art Library or Cranbrook Archives.

If you want to know what happened to the “victim” of the German prince after the period in question, reply in the comments and we can fill you in.

–Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter

Editor’s Note: Happy National Library Week, everyone!

Library Gets [New] Historic Look

Recently, after years of research and investigation, the carpeting in the Cranbrook House Library was restored to its original appearance.

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The previous rugs were donated to Cranbrook House in the 1990s but were not historically accurate.

By studying images of the Library in Cranbrook Archives, we could determine that in George and Ellen Booth’s lifetimes there was a large, solid carpet on the floor, not the oriental rugs seen in recent years.

A review of the Cranbrook House 1921, 1933, 1937, and 1949 inventories (itemized lists of the house’s contents for insurance purposes), as well receipts and historic images, revealed the style and color of the rug: Axminster mottled brown or taupe. This may sound boring, but monochromatic rugs were chosen by the Booths to draw visitors attention up to the furnishings, books, elaborate carvings, and tapestries in the Library.

Axminster was both a brand name and specific type of carpet. Axminster is cut pile carpet (a style of carpet where the woven loops are cut leaving straight tufts of carpet). It derives its name from the small town in England where the process of weaving its distinctive style was created. Looking for a modern, cost-effective equivalent, made in the same fashion as the original Axminster, led us to Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Inc. They have woven wool broadloom Aximinster and Wilton carpets in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania using traditional methods since 1976. With the help of interior designer (and Cranbrook Academy of Art Board of Governor) Lynda Charfoos, we were able to select a color that both closely matched the description “‘mottled’ brown or taupe” and also looked great with the tones and colors of the Library.

On April 30, we cleared the Library so that on May 1, the rugs could be installed by Carpet Design Group, LLC.

KDA_0278

Workmen from Carpet Design Group fusing together the four sections of the carpet.

The Library was reinstalled the next day with a new floor plan based on careful examination of historic photographs and itemized lists of what sat where. Watch the slideshow to compare historic images to the reinstalled room:

We feel guests and staff alike will enjoy this return of the original look to the Library. It will allow the carvings to pop, the colors in the tapestries to appear stronger, and make for a more historically accurate room. Continuing to keep the Booth house looking its best is all part of helping to tell the Cranbrook story to guests from the neighborhood and around the world.

Cranbrook House_5-14-18 Jim Haefner

Photograph by Jim Haefner. Courtesy of Jim Haefner and Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The Center would like to thank the following, without whom this project would not have been possible: Cranbrook Educational Community, Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary, Lynda Charfoos, Bloomberg Carpet, Carpet Design Group, and Chet’s Cleaning Service. Special thanks also to Jim Haefner for photographing the Library.

Come see the new look of the Cranbrook House Library this summer on a Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary house tour.

– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

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