Tag Archives: Private libraries

Stories behind the glass: the library at Victoria Mansion

For many of us in Portland, a tradition at Christmas time is to visit the Victoria Mansion, which is lovingly and lavishly decorated. One of my favorite rooms is the library, of course, full of beautifully bound books behind glass cases. This library was a hidden collection until recently, when two Victoria Mansion staff members, Sue Flaherty and Michelle Josephson, did a thorough investigation of the books behind the glass cases, and in the process learned even more about the families that lived in the Mansion: the Morses and Libbys.

There are 1061 books in the library, including histories, fiction, adventure stories, religious books, and a hymnal dating back to 1795, which is the oldest book in the collection. The fiction includes books by Kate Douglas Wiggin (see November’s blog), who was friends with Mrs. Libby (Louisa). Books by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were also popular, so the local Maine authors are well represented. Some of the books include inscriptions, which give even more clues to relationships between the donor of the book and the lucky recipient. Occasionally items were found in some of the books, such as a pressed flower or bookmark.

Private libraries are a wonderful source of history, to learn more about the people who collected their books. Several years ago I had the honor of cataloguing the books in the Wadsworth Longfellow House, including the books in the bedroom of Anne Longfellow Pierce, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s sister, as well as the books in sitting room.

So, next time you are in a historic house museum, take a closer look at those books in the book cases or on shelves, as they may also have a story to tell about the inhabitants.

Special thanks to Sue Flaherty and Michelle Josephson for providing information for this blog.