The professional and personal papers of Edwin Wolf 2nd
Held at: Library Company of Philadelphia [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Library Company of Philadelphia. 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
Edwin Wolf 2nd (1911-1991) was a librarian, bibliophile, author, historian, Franklin scholar, and civic leader in Philadelphia. He was born on December 6, 1911 to a German Jewish family in Philadelphia. His father, Morris Wolf, was a founding partner of the law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen. Wolf attended the William Penn Charter School, graduated at age fifteen, and then went on to study at the Bedales School in England. Upon his return to the United States in 1930, he began working for Dr. Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, a famous collector and dealer of rare books, where he learned bibliographical description and cataloging of rare books.
In 1943, Wolf left the employ of Dr. Rosenbach to join the United States Army and serve in World War II. Under the Army Specialized Training Program, he learned German, then was trained in Army intelligence. In 1944, Wolf was sent to Europe, where he was responsible for turning in Nazis with arrest warrants. He also spent part of his service recovering ancient and rare books (including copies of the Gutenberg Bible) that had been hidden throughout the German countryside for protection. Wolf left the Army in 1945 and returned to working for Dr. Rosenbach in 1946.
Upon Dr. Rosenbach’s death in 1952, Wolf joined the Library Company of Philadelphia as a consultant and advisor. He was tasked with surveying the contents of the building (the Ridgeway building at 900 South Broad Street) and make recommendations on the future direction of the Library Company. Wolf found that the institution’s collections were of significant research value, and recommended that the Library Company cease circulation of its holdings and become a scholarly research library specializing in American history and culture to 1880. He also suggested that the collections be cataloged and moved out of the Ridgeway building, which was in deteriorating condition. Wolf was hired to carry out this plan and was named Curator of the Library Company in 1953, and Librarian in 1955.
It was in this capacity that Wolf revitalized the Library Company of Philadelphia. He cataloged the institution’s holdings according to a classification system devised by Wolf to meet the unique needs of the institution and collection and sold duplicate volumes to earn money to increase the Library Company’s holdings and fill in collection gaps. In 1960, he petitioned the Orphan’s Court to sell the Ridgeway building so that the Library Company could build and move into a new building next door to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
As Librarian, Wolf made great strides in promoting the Library Company through his Annual Reports (which showcased new acquisitions and the institution’s achievements) and curated exhibitions. He collaborated with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the American Philosophical Society to produce catalogs on the subjects of American agriculture, natural history, education, and philanthropy. Wolf’s efforts to revive the Library Company garnered notable donations of books and manuscripts, and also earned funding from grantors and individuals.
Wolf was also a prolific scholar, historian, and writer. His major publications include A History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson (co-authored with Maxwell Whiteman), Rosenbach: A Biography (co-authored with John Fleming), and The Library of James Logan of Philadelphia, 1674-1751. He served as associate editor for the volume Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, and wrote and organized the picture book Philadelphia: Portrait of an American City. Wolf was named Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford University for the academic year 1985-1986. The lectures that he gave at Oxford (see the Lyell Lectures in Bibliography in Series IIIb) were developed into a book called The Book Culture of a Colonial American City: Philadelphia Books, Bookmen, and Booksellers. The book Library of Benjamin Franklin was published in 2006 (with Kevin J. Hayes), and was based on Wolf’s extensive research into the library of Benjamin Franklin, which he conducted over his entire career.
Wolf was comprehensively involved in the professional field of rare books and bibliography. He helped found the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, served as President of the Bibliographical Society of America, served on the Board of the Free Library of Philadelphia, was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Antiquarian Society, was chairman of the Rare Books and Manuscripts section of the American Library Association, and received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and LaSalle University.
Wolf was also a civic leader and served with numerous organizations. In the 1940s and 1950s, he worked for the Community Chest, the United Fund, the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association, and the local Jewish Welfare Board. Wolf acted as President of the Jewish Publication Society of America, the National Foundation of Jewish Culture, and the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia. He was an early board member of Philadelphia’s chapter of Americans for Democratic Action. Wolf received the Philadelphia Award in 1982 for his service in the arts in Philadelphia (specifically the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Board).
Wolf married Margaret (“Peggy”) Gimbel Dannenbaum in 1934, with whom he had three children. Peggy died in a car accident in 1964. In 1965, Wolf was remarried to Mary Paxson Matthews, who had four daughters, three of whom Wolf adopted. Edwin Wolf died at the age of 79 on February 20, 1991, at his home in Philadelphia.
Korey, Marie Elena. “The Wolf Years: The Renascence of the Library Company of Philadelphia.” Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1984.
Van Horne, John C. “Edwin Wolf 2nd (6 December 1911-20 February 1991).” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 137, No. 2, June 1993.
Wolf, Edwin. “An Autobiographical Sketch Written in 1987 and a Bibliography of the Published Writings of Edwin Wolf 2nd.” Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1991.
The professional and personal papers of Edwin Wolf 2nd houses the professional and personal records of Edwin Wolf 2nd, Curator (1953-1955) and Librarian (1955-1984) of the Library Company of Philadelphia. This collection, which dates from 1798 to 1996 (with bulk dates of 1920 to 1988), contains correspondence, research files, volumes, publications, photographs, and other records that document the education, career, and personal family life of one of Philadelphia’s most prominent bookmen during the 20th century. The collection is arranged into four series: “I. Personal papers, 1798-1991,” II. Professional records, 1899-1992,” “III. Scholarship, 1833-1996,” and “IV. Photographs by Edwin Wolf 2nd, 1970s.”
Series “I. Personal papers” dates from 1798 to 1991, with bulk dates of 1920 to 1948. This series documents Wolf’s time at the Bedales School in England, his time abroad during his service in World War II, and his family life. Records include photographs, school notebooks, a field notebook from his time in Europe, documenting perceived Nazi activity, and extensive correspondence between Wolf and his parents, between Wolf and his first wife (Peggy) and children, and between Wolf and friends and colleagues. Records also include volumes from Wolf’s personal library (including a family Bible, Wolf’s baby book, and books given as gifts by his colleagues at the Library Company) and honorary degrees awarded to Wolf by University of Pennsylvania and LaSalle University. This series is arranged into three separate runs of records. First in the series is a chronological run of general personal records, followed by a chronological run of volumes from Wolf’s personal library, and ending with a run of family records, arranged by family member.
Series “II. Professional records” dates from 1889 to 1992, with bulk dates of 1930 to 1985, and is broken into two subseries: “IIa. Professional correspondence” and “IIb. Professional affiliations.”
Subseries “IIa. Professional correspondence” dates from 1930 to 1985 and documents Wolf’s professional endeavors while working with Dr. Rosenbach and the Library Company of Philadelphia and contains mostly correspondence. Notable topics include various research projects and interests of both Wolf and his colleagues, appraisal and acquisitions, research services, and professional events and milestones. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent.
Subseries “IIb. Professional affiliations” dates from 1889 to 1992, with bulk dates of 1931 to 1969. This series documents Wolf’s involvement with many professional and scholarly groups and civic organizations in and around Philadelphia. Records in this subseries include correspondence, reports, notes, pamphlets, meeting minutes, and reports and ephemera related to various professional organization and events. Included in this subseries are materials regarding membership to various scholarly organizations, the notes and reports from Wolf’s survey of the holdings of the Library Company and the Ridgeway Library in 1952, and the citation from Mayor W. Wilson Goode for Wolf’s service on the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council and receipt of the Philadelphia Award. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by organization.
Series “III. Scholarship” dates from 1833 to 1996, with bulk dates of 1945 to 1988, and is broken into two subseries: “IIIa. Talks and publications” and “IIIb. Research.” Researchers should note that there is significant overlap between materials and topics in these two subseries.
Subseries “IIIa. Talks and publications” dates from 1895 to 1990, with bulk dates of 1960 to 1988, and contains typescripts, notes, and research materials that document the numerous lectures and addresses given at various meetings, as well as many articles and book reviews. Subjects include the Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue, research on the libraries of notable figures in history (William Byrd, Benjamin Chew, Samuel Johnson, James Madison, Benjamin Rush), research on private and public libraries, notices and reviews of publications by Wolf, and correspondence regarding research requests. This subseries is arranged into separate runs of material. First are the talks and publications, followed by a run of additional research materials for talks and publications by Wolf. These first two runs of materials are roughly arranged alphabetically by subject, according to a legacy arrangement. Next is a run of correspondence related to Wolf’s talks and publications (subjects include offprints/reprints and research requests). Last in the subseries is a run of bound reprints of articles and books, mostly published by Wolf, with some published by colleagues. These include newsletters from the Bedales School and William Penn Charter School, yearbooks from summer camp, and articles written by Wolf for several publications, including the JPS Bookmark, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, and Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. Researchers can find many of the published articles from the beginning of this subseries here.
Subseries “IIIb: Research” dates from 1833 to 1996, with bulk dates of 1945 to 1988. This subseries contains research files, notes, and correspondence relating to Wolf’s diverse research interests, including commonplace books, Benjamin Franklin’s library, and the Polock family. A major component of this subseries is Wolf’s research material and lectures delivered during his tenure as the Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford University. These lectures form the basis for his book The Book Culture of a Colonial American City: Philadelphia Books, Bookmen, and Booksellers. This subseries also contains a run of autographed reprints and offprints from fellow bibliographic scholars and writers, including Whitfied J. Bell, Jr., David Vieth, and Justin G. Turner. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject, and chronologically within each subject. The autographed reprints and offprints follow and are arranged alphabetically by publication. Researchers should note that the majority of Wolf’s material on the Polock papers are not physically integrated within this collection; they were processed separately and are not housed with the rest of the Wolf papers.
The final series, “IV. Photographs by Edwin Wolf 2nd,” dates from the 1970s, and contains photographic prints, negatives, contact sheets, and notes from a photography class taken by Wolf. Subjects include landscapes, portraits and candid shots of people, and self-portraits. The materials are arranged by format. Although the subjects of the photographs do not relate directly to Wolf’s tenure at the Library Company, they offer a glimpse into his personal artistic interests towards the end of his life.
The Professional and personal papers of Edwin Wolf, 2nd documents the professional, personal, and civic life of one of the country’s most eminent book scholars, and his diverse research interests in the libraries of many prominent historical figures (including Benjamin Franklin and James Logan), the Polock family, the 1708 Philadelphia charter, the history of the Jews in Philadelphia, book culture in America and colonial Philadelphia, printing and books, and provenance of books. The personal correspondence in this collection provides rich documentation of Wolf’s time in the Army, both while training and while serving in Germany.
Gift of Edwin Wolf 2nd 1988-1990.
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. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections," the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages in 16 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections or complete any preservation work.
- Library Company of Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe and Jessica Hoffman
- Finding Aid Date
- 2014 June 19
- The creation of the electronic guide for 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.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material. Rights and Reproductions policies are available on our web site or from the Print and Photograph Department staff.