Simon Gratz autograph collection
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Simon Gratz (1840-1925) was among the most recognized and respected Jewish Americans in the city of Philadelphia. He was born into one of the oldest families and, perhaps, most notable. He inherited a legacy of high ambition and accomplishment going back to the family’s early settlers in the United States—Barnard and Michael Gratz. The Gratz Brothers were most enterprising in shipping, land acquisition, and trading, which allowed for the cementing of the strong and influential relationship between the family and the city. Simon’s father, Edward Gratz, was known for his activities with the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his most famous aunt, Rebecca Gratz, for her “charm” and philanthropy.
Gratz completed his primary education before the age of 13 and then entered the University of Pennsylvania. Graduating at 16, he then entered the university’s law school. While still a law student, he joined the law office of Garrick Mallery and Furman Sheppard. After graduating in 1855 and being admitted to bar, he began practicing in the city. For three years he served as assistant city solicitor, which enabled him to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. He was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature before the age of 21 and served one term.
In 1869 Gratz was appointed to the Philadelphia Board of Public Education and became chairman of the Committee for the Girl’s Normal School. Additionally, he served for two terms as the board’s president pro-tem. He was most known however for helping to improve many schools that were seen as “primitive.” He also served as president of the Board of Revision of Taxes, president of the Board of Trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia, member of the Board of Trustees of the Jefferson Medical College, and vice-president of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and president of its council.
To distract himself from his professional commitments, Simon Gratz sought “intellectual amusement” through autograph collecting, becoming one of several popular autograph collectors during his time. He started collecting at the age of 17. Gratz in his A Book About Autograph Collecting stated that collecting “is good for the body, as well as the mind,” and to achieve fulfillment through such practices one must “seek occasional relief from the tedium and cares of active professional or business life, by turning to one chosen hobby for relaxation and quiet pleasure.” He used his collection to connect with some of the revered personalities in the United States and abroad, which ultimately supplied him with a great deal of entry points in the study of history. It is through the famed individual, according to Gratz, that we have the greatest opportunity to study:
"the collecting of autographs appeals most strongly to those who seek a delightful relaxation in an eminently intellectual amusement. An autograph letter from the hand of a noted man is the closest personal memorial of him that can be had. Here we have the identical paper that his hands touched and on which he wrote the words we read—words expressing thoughts as they emanated from his brain. We almost feel as if we were in direct contact with the writer. If he was good as well as great, a feeling of reverence for the paper we treasure steals over us. We are moved by the desire to learn the leading events of his life; and, if he was a prominent character in history, we wish to know the historical events in which he was a participant. In this way our treasured personal memorial leads us into the field of intellectual activitiey and history research" (p. 14-15).
His collecting activities led to his lengthy association with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, to which he would deed all of his collection in 1917. This collection reflects much of his philosophy of leisure and collecting. There are many types of documents contained with the collection with a range of people and organizations represented. Gratz had a reputation for collecting internationally. H etraded items with many individuals from around the world, and many of the documents in the collection are written in French, Italian, Russian, or Chinese.
Gratz’s contemporaries in the collecting and dealing of autographs and other artifacts included Walter R. Benjamin, George Briley, Georg M. Cannaroe, Louis J. Cist, Ferdinand J. Dreer, Thomas Addis Emmet, Frank M. Etting, Adrian H. Joline, James T. Mitchell, and Charles Roberts, A. S. W. Rosenbach. With these men and other collectors, Gratz entered a long debate about what constituted genuine collecting practices and what determined the value of autographs. This conversation commenced as autograph collecting increased in popularity and historical documents rose in market value. According to Gratz, many people became “collectors” who “beg[ed] signature,” increasing their stocks by requesting autographs. Objecting to such methods for enriching his store.” He lamented the transition of autograph collecting from a recreational practice to a full-fledged business. He asserted, “from the beginning of the taste for gathering autographs, most of the notable collections have been formed by men of education, refinement, and prominence; and, as a natural consequence, the ways they have followed in pursuing their hobby have been such as were in complete accord with the highest standards of propriety. Their acquisitions, prior to the time when the commerce in autographs commenced, were almost exclusively by the gift of masses of letters and manuscripts which has accumulated, for many generations, in the archives of families of ancient or noble lineage. When, in the early part of the 18th century, a large and steady increase in the number of collectors began to manifest itself, a legitimate business in the purchase, gift, or exchange, of the names they wanted. At a later day, a number of men from whom better things might have been expected, resorted to methods which, in varying degrees, were discreditable.” Much of his displeasure may have been inspired by an increase in the sale of fraudulent documents at suchtions. During one auction he was publicly corrected by Walter R. Benjamin regarding an item that Gratz thought to be authentic, but that was actually a fake.
By the time of his resignation from the board of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, he had amassed an expansive collection, all of which was donated to the organization. He resigned on May 10, 1921, having served more than 51 years consecutively. After his death in 1925, the school board decided to honor him with the naming of a school—the Simon Gratz High School.
In 1917 Gratz deeded his manuscripts and portraits to the Historical Society and began transferring parts of the collection to the Society, a process that was not completed until after his death.
The collection is arranged by category of achievement. Topics included are: American politics; American wars; jurists; church and clergymen; arts and sciences; miscellaneous personal papers; Indian affairs; territorial expansion and settlement in Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania politics and legal affairs; commercial records; correspondence of U.S. government officials; miscellaneous American papers; European letters and papers; and Protestant American clergy.
American wars autographs, 1676-1906: American navy in the Revolution, 1742-1843; Board of War and Navy Board, 1776-1799; British officers in War of 1812, 1803-1866; colonial wars, 1657-1815; American officers in the Revolution, 1747-1842; French and Indian War, 1756; French officers in the Revolution, 1764-1836; foreign officers in British army in the Revolution, and American loyalists, 1747-1827; generals in the Revolution, 1691-1863; Indians and Indian wars, 1676-1858; Mexican War, 1819-1894; United States naval officers, 1795-1906; War of 1812, 1793-1844; Civil War colonels, 1857-1890; Civil War brevet brigadier generals, 1803-1904; Civil War Confederate generals, 1841-1901; Civil War Union generals, 1777-1901; Confederate army, 1834-1895; Confederate navy, 1836-1883; Confederate Congress and miscellaneous, 1832-1886; constitution of the Confederate States, 1832-1889; governors of the Confederate States, 1837-1884.
Jurists autographs, 1668-1924: American judges, 1668-1925; American lawyers, 1699-1913; attorneys general of Pennsylvania, 1702-1922; High Court of Errors and Appeals of Pennsylvania, 1758-1808; judges, Supreme Court, 1778-1924; Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 1679-1923.
Church and clergymen autographs, 1647-1921: American clergy, 1683-1920; American colonial clergy, 1647-1803; chaplains in the French and Indian wars, 1732-1812; Methodist bishops, 1790- 1902; Moravian bishops, 1738-1880; Presbyterian moderators, 1788-1900; Protestant Episcopal bishops, 1768-1921; Protestant Episcopal ministers, 1813-1893; Roman Catholic prelates, 1795-1921; sermons, 1650-1788; sermons of early New England clergy, 1654-1805; and miscellaneous church papers, 1745-1815.
Participants in cultural life, arts, and sciences autographs, 1647-1923: American actors and actresses, 1794-1928; American authors, 1782-1879; American historians, 1684-1915; American literary men, 1670-1890; American poets, 1728-1907; American prose writers, 1700-1921; hymn writers, 1753-1793; prose and poetry of American authors, 1780-1915; literary miscellaneous, 1790-1912; notable American women, 1724-1894; inventors, 1733-1876; explorers, discoverers, mathematicians, and astronomers, 1776-1911; painters, sculptors, and engravers, 1790-1921; physicians, 1682-1923; philanthropists, international, 1761-1902; scientists, 1740-1909; university and college presidents, 1647-1921.
Miscellaneous personal autographs, 1754-1824: John Dickinson correspondence, 1775-1798, includes Congressional acts signed by Charles Thomson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock; George Washington letters, 1781-1782; Marquis de Lafayette, 1789; George Latimer, 1788; Robert Morris, 1797-1798; Charles Lee, 1775; Tadeusz Kòsciuszko and others; Albert Gallatin correspondence, 1801-1811; Stephen Girard papers, 1794-1811; Charles Thomson correspondence, 1754-1824, includes his memorandum book, 1754-1774, with notes on the Revolutionary Convention; Baron von Steuben, letters and correspondence, 1782-1793.
Indian affairs autographs, 1758-1807: Papers of John Reynell, commissioner for Indian affairs, relate to Indians at Fort Augusta, Fort Pitt, 1758-1765; copy of Cornplanter's speech to the Quakers, 1790; letters relating to trade and shipping; Deborah Morris' letters, 1788; school funds, 1765; taxes, 1735; Indian affairs, 1756-1763, including commissioners' accounts, cash and receipt books; Pennsylvania-Pittsburgh invoice books, 1760-1761; daybook, Pittsburgh, 1760-1765; daybooks, Shamokin, 1759-1761; daybook, Fort Allen, 1759-1760; John Willington correspondence, 1786-1807, relates to frontier activities, Indian fighting, and United States army operations.
Territorial expansion and settlements in Pennsylvania, 1712-1895: Asylum Company, 1794-1839; list of stockholders, notes, correspondence, agreements of sales of lands in Bradford, Columbia, Lycoming, Northumberland, and other counties; Avon-by-the-Sea Land and Improvement Company, 1892-1895; deeds, 1712-1845, documents of properties in various counties; John Nicholson's land transactions, 1781-1832; Northumberland County, 1773-1794, land transactions, surveys, trade, legal, politics; Pennsylvania Population Company, 1792-1794; North American Land Company, 1800-1880; early Pennsylvania and New Jersey, 1684-1853, contain correspondence of colonial settlers, surveys, trade, military, and domestic records; surveys, 1688-1829; York County, 1768-1847, land transactions, legal, domestic, and political records.
Pennsylvania politics and legal affairs, 1800-1879: Benjamin S. Bonsall correspondence, 1830-1836; Thomas Bradford correspondence, 1800-1846; Charles Gilpin correspondence, 1864-1868; A. Boyd Hamilton correspondence, 1806-1840, contains Jackson and anti-Jackson material, Simon Cameron letters, and Buck Shot War papers; Samuel D. Patterson correspondence, 1839; Thomas Lamborn docket books, 1813-1859.
Commercial records, 1699-1835: John Astley, 1799-1819; Thomas Astley, Philadelphia merchant, 1813-1835, correspondence on trade and land transactions; Andrew Clow and David Cay, Philadelphia merchants, papers, 1730-1816, relate to trade with England, West Indies, Newburyport, Mass., Wilmington, Del., and other places; Samuel Coates receipt books, 1740-1756, 1781-1818, and memorandum book, 1813-1818; William Manington accounts, 1699-1703; Cramond, Phillips and Company, Philadelphia merchants, correspondence, 1789-1801; Hamilton-Hood papers, 1813-1835, relate to commerce, finance, accounts, receipts; Thomas Barn day and receipt books, 1827-1835; William Clarkson and George Morrison ledger, 1767-1779; Isaac Zane ledger, 1748-1759; bonds, 1749-1775, miscellaneous agreements and obligations signed by men of the colonial period.
Correspondence of officials of the United States Government departments, 1795-1868: Department of Internal Revenue, 1849-1868; Navy Department, 1862-1868; Treasury Department, 1821-1868; United States Attorney General's office, 1850-1865; War Department, 1851-1868; Custom House revenue inspector certificates, 1795-1807; revenue documents, 1806-1808.
Miscellaneous American papers, 1570-1919: John Williams and family papers, 1706-1811; Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson correspondence, 1737-1794; Loganian Library and Library Company papers, 1767-1824; Benjamin Lightfoot letters from Reading, 1770; Philadelphia Almshouse poor daybook, 1739; Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and Free School Corporation accounts, 1743-1778; Wistar papers, 1773-1815; Martha Lees poetry and miscellaneous papers, 1775-1800, includes sketches of the State House, 1800; William Maclay drafts and family papers, 1767-1792; Nathan Arnaut ciphering book, 1775; "Americana," 1787-1802, miscellaneous manuscripts of diaries, poetry, religious writings; Benjamin West correspondence, 1789-1824; criminals and their victims, 1791-1868; J.H. Walmouth account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, 1798; Penn-Gaskill-Hall correspondence, 1816-1899; Dr. Joseph Chamberlain correspondence, 1828-1845, relating to the medical profession; Sallie Knowles diaries, 1845-1850, and journal concerning the building of the Annapolis and Elk Ridge Railroad, 1838.
Loyalist Poetry of the Revolution by Winthrop Sargent (Philadelphia, 1857) interleaved with autograph letters, portraits, and newspaper clippings, 1767-1857; Winthrop Sargent notes and poetry, ca. 1847; Art Union of Philadelphia papers, 1849-1851; Cohocksink Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, papers, 1877-1911; Simon Gratz manuscript of "A Book About Autographs," 1919; Simon Gratz correspondence, 1860-1919, on civil affairs, education, autographs; miscellaneous letters, 1570-1879; American and European celebrities, royalty, diplomats, statesmen, authors, military and naval officers; miscellaneous papers, 1686-1880, relate to national and local politics, trade with Indians, land transactions, religion, penal law; lottery tickets, 1699-1860; Continental, New England, Middle Atlantic, Southern, and Confederate paper money and stamps; playbills, 1821-1847; portraits of American and European celebrities.
European letters and papers, 1383-1916: European actresses and actors, 1712-1900; European clergy, 1568- 1870; European critics and orientalists, 1568-1892; European military and naval, 1459-1893; European miscellaneous, 1557-1906; European painters and sculptors, 1508-1903; European physicians, 1559-1900; European scientists, 1635-1899; European statesmen, 1504-1910; British authors, 1590-1912; British bishops, 1600-1903; British clergy, 1568-1871; British dramatists, 1648-1898; British historians and essayists, 1697-1909; British jurists, 1557-1911; British literary, 1600-1912; British poets, 1600-1912; British prime ministers, 1563-1903; British statesmen, 1572-1890; Canadians, 1711-1916; French authors, 1443-1904; French generals, 1680-1847; French Revolution, 1768-1812; foreign hymn writers, 1566-1888; German miscellaneous, 1735-1868; Italian authors, 1407-1908; Luther and the Reformation, 1515-1603; musicians and composers, 1616-1913; Napoleon and his marshals, 1792-1832.
Northern and central European literary, 1559-1887; northern and central European historians and novelists, 1525-1920; northern and central European poets and dramatists, 1525-1920; notable European women, 1573-1872; popes, 1586-1831; Portuguese, Italian, Belgian, Spanish authors, 1471-1893; royalty of England, 1479-1870; royalty of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, 1587-1872; royalty of France, 1383-1890; royalty miscellaneous, 1461-1866; royalty of Prussia, Austria, Germany, 1509-1883; royalty of Spain, Portugal, 1402-1870; Swiss authors, 1650-1859; Thirty Years' War.
Gift of Simon Gratz transferred gradually over many years.
There are some Case/Box units that appear to be either missing or misplaced. The following is a short list of units noticed “missing” during the processing of the collection: Case 7/Box 1; Case 9/Box 24; Case 16/Box 8; Case 16/Box 20.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly
- Finding Aid Date
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This collection is open for research.
1 folder; 3 volumes
13 volumes; 11 folders