John Frederick Lewis papers
Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. 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
John Frederick Lewis (1860–1932) was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist widely active in the business, philanthropic, and cultural circles of the city as well as a respected collector of rare books and fine art.
Born in Philadelphia to S. Weir and Caroline Kalbfus Lewis, Lewis graduated from Central High School in 1879, studied law under the Hon. George M. Dallas, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1882. In 1925, Lewis received the A.M. and LL.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. At first, Lewis was associated with Charles Gibbons, but eventually formed a partnership with Francis C. Adler and Francis S. Laws. The firm of Lewis, Adler & Laws acted as solicitor for the Philadelphia Bourse and the Philadelphia Maritime Commission. Many of the cases handled by Lewis involved collisions of ships and disputes arising over shipping cargoes. As an attorney who was knowledgeable in corporate financial affairs, Lewis served on the boards of several companies: as Director of the Farmers' and Mechanics' National Bank; as Vice-President of the Merchants Trust Company; and as President of the Malvern Electric Light, Heat and Power Company. He was an active member of the Law Association of Philadelphia and the Law Academy, and was a regular guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
The philanthropic interests of John Frederick Lewis were widely known. He was an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church and also was involved with the Young Peoples' Lutheran Association. He long supported the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, serving as Secretary of that institution for a period of time. The entire Lewis family was interested in charitable organizations and was often solicited for donations and sponsorship.
As a respected collector of rare books and fine art, Lewis assembled a noted collection of portraits of prominent men in American history. Lewis was particularly interested in portraits of George Washington and donated a number of likenesses of the first president to various Philadelphia schools and libraries. The bookCollection of John Frederick Lewis American Portraits: Presented to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Other Institutionsbook Collection (1934) provides illustrations and descriptions of many of the portraits that Lewis owned.
Another collection reflected Lewis's literary interests: his study of early forms of writing and books led Lewis to collect cuneiform tablets and cones, as well as European and Oriental manuscripts. Lewis was often asked to give talks to art classes at the University of Pennsylvania and other art groups in the city on topics such as oriental art.
Like his portrait collection, most of Lewis's collections were donated to Philadelphia museums and libraries. Lewis and his wife donated more that 2,800 clay tablets, dating from 3,000 B.C. to 300 B.C., to the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. After her husband's death, Mrs. Lewis donated the collection of European and Oriental manuscripts to the same institution.
The knowledge gained while assembling his private collections led to prominent positions for Lewis with several of the city's cultural institutions. Among the many offices he held during his lifetime, Lewis served as President of the American Academy of Music, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Art Jury of Philadelphia; he served on the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia; and acted as Secretary of the Board of Managers of the Apprentices' Library of Philadelphia.
Because of his leadership in the business, philanthropic, and cultural circles of the city, Lewis was invited to be a member of a number of quasi-public advisory councils to several mayors and his opinions on current issues were solicited by the publishers ofThe Ledger, a Philadelphia newspaper.
In addition to his affiliations with the cultural institutions of the city, Lewis belonged to a number of social and special interest clubs, a few of which were The Wistar Party, The History Club, The Genealogical Society, The Ice Skating Club and Humane Society (of which he served as President). Lewis was a thirty-third degree Mason.
The wide-ranging interests of John Frederick Lewis were the subjects of several books he authored. An examination of the early history of the city,The History Of An Old Philadelphia Land Title, 208 South Fourth Street was a book begun by his father and completed by Lewis in 1934. His interest in the Apprentices' Library was demonstrated by his book History of the Apprentices' Library of Philadelphia, 1820-1920, the Oldest Free Circulating Library in America. Finally, Lewis's interest in city planning led him to undertake an examination of The Redemption of the Lower Schuylkill: the River As It Was, The River As It is, The River As It Should Be. To mark the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar, Lewis wrote a book entitled Thomas Spry, Lawyer and Physician, about the first attorney admitted to practice English Law in the middle colonies.
Considered a gifted and entertaining orator, Lewis was often asked to speak at public events; several public talks were later published. At the dedication of the new Bourse building in 1895, Lewis delivered a speech entitledPhiladelphia--A Short Oration. One of his speeches is included in John Marshall and Philadelphia: Dedication Exercises At The Statue of John Marshall, Art Museum, West Entrance, January 7th, 1930.
John Frederick Lewis had two brothers, Louis (a minister) and Howard; Howard was also an attorney in the city and active in many of the same financial and cultural institutions as his brother, John. Howard also served as President of the Atheneum. John Frederick Lewis married Anne H. Rush Baker Lewis in 1895. The Lewises had two sons: Alfred Gustavus Baker and John Frederick, Jr., both of whom became attorneys. In the 1920s, both joined the law firm of Lewis, Adler & Laws.
Collection of John Frederick Lewis American Portraits: Presented to The Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts And Other Institutions. Philadelphia: The Academy of Fine Arts, 1934. Exercises at the Opening of the Main Building of The Free Library of Philadelphia Facing Logan Square. Philadelphia: The Free Library of Philadelphia. 1927. In This Academy: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805-1976. A Special Bicentennial Exhibition. [Philadelphia]: The Academy. 1976.Sketch of the Wistar Party of Philadelphia. Being a reprint of the edition of 1846 with a continuation to the present. Philadelphia: [Printed for the members only]. 1898.Korey, Marie E. The Rare Book Department of The Free Library of Philadelphia. [Philadelphia]: The Free Library of Philadelphia. .Lewis, John Frederick. The History Of An Old Philadelphia Land Title, 208 South Fourth Street. Philadelphia: [Printed by Patterson & White Company], 1934.-------. History Of The Apprentices' Library of Philadelphia, 1820-1920, The Oldest Free Circulating library In America. Philadelphia, 1924.-------. Philadelphia: A Short Oration at the Dedication of the Philadelphia Bourse, December 31, 1895. Philadelphia: Burk & McFetridge, 1896.-------. The Redemption Of The Lower Schuylkill: The River As It Was, The River As It Is, The River As It Should Be. Philadelphia: City Parks Association, 1924.-------. Thomas Spry, Lawyer and Physician. Philadelphia, 1932. Philadelphia Bar Association. John Marshall and Philadelphia: Dedication Exercises At The Statue of John Marshall, Art Museum, West Entrance, January 7th, 1930. Philadelphia, 1930.
The papers of prominent Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist John Frederick Lewis span the dates 1882 to 1932 and include letterbooks, correspondence, advertising brochures, legal documents, and ephemera. The papers primarily document the legal business of Lewis through his work at the firm Lewis, Adler & Laws, but also reflect social and domestic affairs of John Lewis and his wife, Anne Baker Lewis, as well as cultural interests, through development of personal collections and institutional affiliations.
For those interested in maritime law and the history of ships there is much information about both in the correspondence relating to many of the legal cases handled by John Frederick Lewis, particularly those cases dating from before the turn of the twentieth century. There is a small file relating to aTitanic case with which Lewis was involved, Nesson vs. S. S. Titanic.
Many details about the administrative workings of a number of Philadelphia's most prestigious cultural institutions are provided by the correspondence. Such information is especially prominent in the correspondence relating to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and The Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts. These letters relay a sense of how the leaders of these institutions regarded their activities and the roles of these institutions.
The correspondence relating to Lewis's collecting activities provides many details about prices for the types of portraits, oriental objects, and books in which he was interested. The effort and knowledge required to build such collections is an underlying theme of these letters, which also provide a look at the relationship of trust and respect that must be established between dealer and collector if such collections are to be created.
As biographical sources, the letterbooks and correspondence tell the story of a man who established a successful law practice that gained him the contacts to become a leader in many of the city's important cultural institutions, and put him in a financial position to amass significant collections of art works and to purchase a country seat at Morstein in Chester County, as many successful professional men did at that time. While Lewis appears to have often responded favorably to solicitations for donations and even occasionally to the many begging letters he received, his early active involvement in church and charitable organizations was largely given up for a leading role in more socially prestigious institutions.
These letters were written by a man concerned with his own affairs; "personal" letters relate to Lewis's many activities and positions in various institutions. Little truly personal information is included. Lewis rarely commented on current events, either in Philadelphia, the nation, or the world. During World War I, Lewis noted the war only in letters dealing with the practical arrangements for his position monitoring shipping along part of the eastern seaboard.
This correspondence provides a picture of the network formed by Lewis and many of his business and civic associates. This is particularly evident in letters concerning nominations for membership in or appointments to the boards of these institutions. The phrase to "keep the social tone up" was frequently used. Another connection that can be examined in this correspondence is that many of Lewis's associates, like Lewis himself, were Freemasons.
The John Frederick Lewis Papers have been organized into five series. Series I is the collection of personal and office letterbooks of John Frederick Lewis, 1884–1932, as well as several that belonged to his law partner, Francis Adler. Seventy-five volumes are stored in twenty-seven archival boxes, each box containing two to four letterbooks. The range of dates for each volume provides identification for the individual letterbooks.
Series II contains incoming business correspondence, most of which has been arranged chronologically. Several files contain documents relating to specific legal cases with which Lewis was involved. Within the chronological files, there are letters relating to a variety of topics intermixed with the business correspondence. Much of the correspondence in this series is still adhered to binders from the original filing system: incoming correspondence was tipped onto page guards in a binder (frequently in order of date received).
Series III contains personal correspondence relating to social and domestic affairs that was addressed to Lewis or his wife, Anne Baker Lewis. This correspondence includes invitations, thank you notes, travel arrangements, correspondence relating to the Philadelphia house and the Morstein farm, as well as the collecting activities of John Frederick Lewis. There are a few letters relating to the books Lewis authored. A subseries of the correspondence is from Julia Lewis, the widow of Henry Carvill Lewis, a cousin of John Frederick Lewis.
Series IV contains correspondence relating to the many social, philanthropic, cultural, and civic activities of John Frederick Lewis. If the amount of correspondence relating to a specific institution warranted, pertinent correspondence was chronologically arranged in a separate folder. Following folders on individual institutions are folders containing correspondence relating to all other cultural and municipal organizations with which Lewis was involved. These letters are arranged chronologically.
Series V contains several folders of unidentified items that have lost meaningful context through disorder. One folder contains stray pages of correspondence, which probably came out of the groups that were bound together in Series II. Researchers coming across letters in other series that do not seem complete are advised to consult this folder.
Boxes 1-27: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (upright manuscript boxes)Boxes 28-40: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (17 inches)F6, F13, F15: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (20 inches)
Gift of the Moyerman family, circa 1970-1972.
Processed by Anne E. Krulikowski, April 1999. Encoded by Thomas Pulhamus, February 2010. Further encoding by Lauren Connolly, August 2015, and Tiffany Saulter, November 2015.
- University of Delaware Library Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
- Finding Aid Date
- 2010 February 18
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, http://library.udel.edu/spec/askspec/
Consists of personal and business letterbooks of John Frederick Lewis; several office books of Lewis, Adler & Laws and Francis Laws, Lewis's law partner; two account books pertinent to two legal cases; a personal checkbook of Lewis; and a log book for the Tug John F. Lewis. The letterbooks contain handwritten and typed, mostly signed letters, dating from March 4, 1884, to January 28, 1932.
Lewis's recordkeeping is a little confusing. He appears to have begun keeping numbered letterbooks in the early 1880s when he first began to practice law. Although his legal affairs (Lewis specialized in maritime, insurance fraud, and real estate law) dominated, these letterbooks contain correspondence relating to other concerns. Once Lewis established himself, his attention turned more and more to his collecting activities, his Morstein farm, and to the many other interests that marked his life. Beginning in the mid-1890s and more so after the turn of the century, these other interests constituted the bulk of his correspondence. For a time in the teens, this series was labelled personal and contained letters only on matters unconnected with his practice. Lewis, Adler & Laws also kept a series of letterbooks and a few of these are included in this collection. In the early 1920s, the numbering of Lewis's own series was given up, and his letterbooks once again contain all the letters written by Lewis, personal and business.
Books have been kept in chronological order, each book identified primarily by the range of dates of letters within. However, if numbers from Lewis's lifelong series are evident, they are indicated because the gaps are more readily apparent. The six office books are indicated, but to prevent confusion their numbers are not given.
Office Book, part
letters at beginning and end are illegible
This series consists of business correspondence and papers relating to the cases with which John Frederick Lewis was involved. There are also a number of deeds, wills, and contracts relating to various cases. Some letters are addressed to other members of the law firm and there are a few copies of letters sent by John Frederick. At the end of this series, which is arranged chronologically, there are a number of folders containing papers relating to specific cases. As noted, many letters were tipped onto guard pages of a bound filing system, so there are letters on many topics other than business in this series. Tipped-in letters are not always strictly chronological, which is why a few folders repeat the time period of a previous folder.
This series includes correspondence and papers related to the family life and interests of John Frederick Lewis: letters addressed to John Frederick Lewis and Anne Baker Lewis; papers relating to the two homes of the Lewis family; and correspondence relating to the collecting activities of John Frederick Lewis. Another group in this series is the correspondence from Julia Lewis, widow of Henry Carvill Lewis, cousin of John Frederick Lewis.
Correspondence received by John Frederick Lewis includes letters, postal cards, and telegrams that contain donation requests, begging letters, requests for Lewis to speak to classes and clubs on various topics, travel arrangements, and auto repairs. There are also several letters concerning the books he wrote as well as family notes addressed to both Lewis and his wife.
Correspondence received by Anne Baker Lewis was of a personal nature and contains invitations, thank you notes, travel arrangements, and letters from friends and family.
The bulk of this series consists of letters written by Julia and addressed to John Frederick Lewis who handled Julia's business affairs, the estate of Henry Carvill Lewis, and oversaw the renting, maintenance and sale of Julia's house in Germantown, Pennsylvania. These letters were written during the period of Julia's widowhood, when Julia and her daughter, Gwen, lived in Heidelburg, Germany. Letters and documents relating to Henry's estate are intermixed chronologically with Julia's correspondence, since financial and legal matters are often the subject of her letters. Julia's correspondence ends abruptly.
1914 Spruce Street was the Lewis family home in Philadelphia. With only a few exceptions, the correspondence in this series relates to a library addition and other major renovations underaken during 1909. Many letters are from Frank Miles Day & Brother, the Philadelphia architectural firm that designed and oversaw the work, and provide details about the design specifications, materials, and prices.
This correspondence concerns the Lewis farm at Morstein. Much of it was written by various managers of the property and addressed such topics as employees, the animals, crops, and attempts to purchase more property. A few letters were written by guests at Morstein. Correspondence relating to church and other activities of Lewis in Chester County are also included.
Most letters were written by book and art dealers providing information about objects and their prices. Several written by European dealers in 1915 comment on the sinking of the Lusitania. Other correspondence included here was written by conservators, frame makers, those soliciting Lewis's expert opinion, and those who wished to borrow objects for exhibits.
This was the church attended by John Frederick Lewis. At least in the 1880s, Lewis was an active member of the congregation, participating in the Young Peoples' Lutheran Association. Most of the correspondence dates to the 1880s.
The Band of Mercy was either a Lutheran or Christian charitable group, the members of which distributed books, pamphlets, and hymns of a Christian nature to orphans and others residing in institutions. Because only one dated item (1910) did not originate in the 1880s, most of the undated correspondence probably dates to the 1880s.
John Frederick Lewis became President of the Academy in 1907. This correspondence relates mostly to administrative matters, such as exhibits, the art classes, students, and the awarding of scholarships, lecture arrangements, employees, and lending paintings. Lewis also oversaw the Academy's art school at Chester Springs, Chester County.
Lewis served on the Board of Trustees as well as on the Hall & Building Committee. The building on the Parkway was completed in 1902. Many letters relate to procuring appropriate shelving and storage supplies for the various collections and furniture for staff and public rooms. There are brochures of filing cabinets and estimates from various companies for the supplies. Other letters relate to the art collection, and renting rooms to Philadelphia clubs and societies. There are two signed letters from Addison Hutton, the well-known Quaker architect who designed the building.
Lewis was involved in many organizations and institutions in the city. A number of letters from various mayors relate to Lewis's participation in advisory committees to mayors and municipal departments. While other institutions and clubs are represented by this correspondence, the most prominent are listed below. Known positions held by Lewis are indicated.
Legal Affililiations The Law Academy, Member of Argument Committee
Social The Wistar Party The DownTown Club (luncheon club) The Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society
Philanthropic Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Secretary The Young American Humane Union, President
Civic The Committee for a New Philadelphia The Committee of Seventy The Historical Pageant Association The Permanent Committee on Comprehensive Plans Sesquicentennial Commission, Mayor's Reception Committee
Cultural American Academy of Music, President Metropolitan Opera House Co. of Philadelphia Philadelphia Grand Opera Association, Founding Member The Art Alliance The Art Jury, President The Mercantile Library The Apprentices' Library, President The Free Library of Philadelphia, Trustee The Contemporary Club (literary society) The Pennsylvania Library Club, Member of Executive Committee The Geneological Society of Pennsylvania, Vice-President The Philadelphia War History Association, Chairman The Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia
These documents were part of the Lewis collection, but their content provides no basis for determining their connection to Lewis. The fragments of letters possibly came unstuck from letters that were tipped into binding.