Berkshire Athenaeum and Their Daguerreotype
Herman Melville: Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, 1852.
Does it matter where we write our novels and poems and blog posts? I typed my notes for this post in the Berkshire Athenaeum’s Herman Melville Memorial Room in Pittsfield, Massachusetts; I’m now cobbling the notes together in a Seattle Starbucks.
Cody Walker: “I Almost Fancy There Is Too Much Sail on the House,
and I Had Better Go on the Roof and Rig in the Chimney”, August 4, 2009.
Dear Ms. Reilly,
I am a German privat scholar about Herman Melville. My studies include mainly a “Moby-Dick” reading project with several co-readers on https://ismaels.wordpress.com, a weblog where I try to establish articles in German and English language.
One content I would strongly like to establish is a complete set of the known portraits of Herman Melville.
The first approach to do so would commonly be to scan them out of a book. Unfortunately I had to learn that none of the relevant monographies and other literature about Melville features the six known contemporary portraits, especially not Hershel Parker’s two-volume biographical monument. The best collection is in Andrew Delbanco’s Melville. His World and Work but still not in a quality one would wish for.
Here I see a mission for a weblog: providing all of the six Herman Melville portraits in their full display and in printable quality. As to the display, see a private Flickr rendering on Celeste Tumulte’s Flickr account, which shows the 1861 carte de visite by R.H. Dewey from frame to frame, which I could not find anywhere else in this completeness [though it was in Common-Place since 2005. W.G.].
Five of the six Melville portraits (save Joseph Eaton’s oil painting) are in your guard and copyright. From your pittsfieldlibrary.org I learn that your most valuable Melville Room has been dissolved, and the original portraits should not be accessible any more, neither in their material form nor as virtual picture files. They are vanished from the public.
My request to you is to work with me here. I would like to save authoritative renderings of all of Herman Melville’s portraits for public access. This means that they need to be scanned on at least 300 dpi and in at least 200% size. I am thinking of the complete set on my Flickr account and in my given weblog.
Unfortunately, I am not in a situation to travel to your library to inscribe as a library user; your website is as far as I can travel. And as you, on your account, will probably not be willing to send me historically valuable materials, I am asking you to cooperate with me by scanning the mentioned portraits in the stated quality.
This is not a small thing, as I am aware. So I depend on your awareness that we are going to provide some very useful items for all future Melville research. The pictures themselves are in the Public Domain by now, what I am proposing are the technical necessities for their availabilty.
To ensure you that I am serious I suggest as well that you charge me an appropriate contribution for your library. It is you who can estimate the complexity and consequences for this venture. Please let me know the effort you are able and willing to take.
Looking forward to hearing from you, with best regards from Bavarian Munich,
Dear Mr. Wolf Gräbel,
In response to your inquiry, let me first assure you that our Melville Room has not been dissolved [however very poorly covered online. W.G.]. In fact, during 2008 the Athenaeum invested in major renovations to our Local History and Reference areas, including the Herman Melville Memorial Room. Additionally, we have invested funds in the restoration of our portraits and have previously received grant funding for the preservation of our collection of Melville Prints and Melville Family Photographs.
The Melville Room is available for viewing by visitors at all times that the library is open. We have created scans of all of our family photographs and, from those scans, we have created albums of prints that are housed in the Melville Room for viewing by any one who visits us.
Now, to address your specific request. First, we do not consider our Melville images to be in the public domain. We do routinely make these images available to authors and publishers for reproduction in books and articles for minimal fees, but we require that Permission to Publish is formally requested using specific procedures and forms. Under controlled conditions, we also make the images available to individuals for personal use. To date, our Board of Trustees has approved only the 1861 photo portrait by photographer Rodney Dewey for use on the web. The Board has specifically prohibited the reproduction of our oil portrait of Melville by Asa Twitchell for use in digital format or on the web.
I have spoken with our director, Mr. Ronald Latham, about this matter. Our answer to you is that we will not grant permission for the use of our images in the manner you propose. We encourage you to direct visitors to your weblog to the Berkshire Athenaeum if they have a need for our images.
Thank you for your understanding and compliance.
Kathleen M. Reilly, Supervisor
Local History Department
The Berkshire Athenaeum
1 Wendell Avenue
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Dear Ms. Reilly,
thank you very much for your quick and well-founded response.
I was under the impression that your Melville Room was dissolved from the search results in your webspace. If I had an intention to visit or report about you I very certainly would have done more detailed research. In fact, I am happy to learn from you personally that Melville Room is very alive.
My estimation about your Melville images to be in the public domain derived from the usual defintion: author’s death 70 years or more ago; even Wikipedia states its rendition to be there: Dewey 1860 and Rockwood 1885. My own explanation is that only these specific renditions are public, since taken from The Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Reading Room and approved by the responsible Board of Trustees, and a minor resolution respectively. See me relieved for having asked first and not taking a nearby assumption for granted.
Of course, I shall respect your guidelines, and hope to be in a situation to visit your house in a not-too-far time.
Best regards from Munich,
The Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield’s public library, is at 1 Wendell Avenue at Park Square. Opening hours for most of the year are Monday through Thursday from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M., Friday until 5 P.M. and Saturday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Starting June 29 until around Labor Day, reduced summer hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Tuesday and Thursday until 9 P.M.; Saturday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. The library is closed Sunday year round. The Melville Room is open to visitors who inquire at the local history desk, (413) 499-9486; on the table as you go in to the collection is a pamphlet with a numbered key explaining the various exhibits. The room also houses a research collection for use by scholars.
W.D. Wetherell: Where Melville Paid Homage to a Mountain, New York Times, June 7, 1998.
Image: Permitted by myself, August 6, 2010.