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Benjamin D. Bernstein papers


Held at: Woodmere Art Museum [Contact Us]9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19118

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Woodmere Art Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

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Benjamin D. Bernstein (1907-2003) was a businessman and art collector in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Heavily involved in the transportation and shipping industries, Bernstein had a passion for art collecting. He was known for forming relationships with local artists and supporting them through offering them work in his company and purchasing their work. Bernstein also collected works from several European artists, including those who were part of the mid-twentieth century European avant-garde CoBrA movement. During his lifetime, Bernstein amassed a large art collection and donated several items to a number of institutions and organizations in Pennsylvania and New York.

"Born to Polish immigrants who settled in New York City and moved to Philadelphia in 1912 after one of their nine children was killed in an apartment fire, Mr. Bernstein grew up in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city.

"He attended the former McIntyre Elementary School and dropped out after completing eighth grade - because he was the oldest son and had to help his father support the family...

"During the 1920s, Mr. Bernstein was largely a casual worker: stocking shelves at Center City department stores for $2 a day; selling silk stockings door to door; driving a cab. One of his first formal jobs was working as a waiter on a cruise ship for $42 a month.

"His life changed in 1929, when he married the former Evelyn Glauser. His wife, who had worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and Horn & Hardart and had money of her own, helped Mr. Bernstein set up his business.

"His first moving firm, Quaker Moving & Storage Co., began in 1930 with the purchase of a beaten-up truck for $10.

"...His firm eventually became the city's largest moving company before he sold it in the 1990s.

"Mr. Bernstein had other business interests as well.

"In the late 1940s, he became a regional vice president of United Van Lines and was the largest shareholder until [the late 1990s].

"In 1950, he became one of the founders of Container Transport International, a containerized-shipping company with offices in 20 countries. He sold his share of the company in 1968 for more than $10 million.

"As his businesses grew, Mr. Bernstein traveled all over the world and developed a love of art and a passion for collecting. He supported several artists in America and Europe for years.

"He acquired the works of local artists, including those of Tom Palmore, James Harvard, Julius T. Bloch, Seymour Remenick, Paul Keene and Bruce Samuelson. He often hired young artists to work at Quaker Storage to support themselves, and he bought their paintings for the amounts the artists asked.

"He surrounded himself with thousands of paintings and sculptures. They covered every wall and every flat surface of his spacious, high-ceilinged townhouse on Delancey Street and spilled over into the offices and warehouses of Quaker Storage and his farmhouse in Bucks County.

"His collection represented hundreds of influences, from obscure African tribesmen to world-famous artists including Jean Arp Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse, Giorgio DeChirico and Fernand L[e]ger.

"As his collection grew, Mr. Bernstein began to give it away. He gave hundreds of works to colleges, institutions and museums, including the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum, and New York's Whitney, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museums. He also gave art to small places, among them Radnor Township schools, Friends Select School, and museums in Reading, Allentown and Harrisburg.

"La Salle and Villanova Universities were so appreciative, they bestowed honorary degrees on Mr. Bernstein.

"At 80, Mr. Bernstein enrolled at Oxford University in England...Oxford admitted him to study art and literature at the university for seven summer sessions..."

Bernstein passed away at the age of 95.


Sims, Gayle Ronan. "B.D. Bernstein, 95; owned moving firm." Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 10, 2003. Accessed on August 18, 2016.

The Benjamin D. Bernstein papers, 1930s-1980s, consist of materials related to Bernstein's art collection and artists represented in his collection. This collection includes correspondence, exhibition catalogs and gallery programs, photographs, sketchbooks, newspaper clippings, materials related to appraisal and authentication for items in Bernstein's collection, artist files, and other materials.

A large portion of materials relate to artist Julius T. Bloch (1888-1966), a German-Jewish painter, lithographer, etcher, and teacher active in Philadelphia in the early to mid-twentieth century. There are letters, 1930s-1960s, to Bloch from various people, clippings about his art shows, exhibit programs and catalogs with his work, and photographs of Bloch and his work. There also some are unidentified sketchbooks in the collection, possibly Bloch's or another Philadelphia artist.

Other materials in the collection include correspondence between Bernstein and Waddington Galleries (England) and other galleries and art dealers, gallery programs, appraisals and authenticity materials relating to items in Bernstein's collection, photographs and negatives of artworks, artist files containing appraisals and other information about their work, articles and other materials relating to CoBrA artists, and other documents. (CoBrA was an avant-garde art movement in Europe from 1948 to 1951. The name is the result of combining the members' home cities: Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Bernstein had several artworks from CoBrA artists in his collection.)

Gift of Robin Bernstein, 2005

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Woodmere Art Museum directly for more information.

Woodmere Art Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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