History of the Club

The following is taken from Robert E. Spiller, The Philobiblon Club of Philadelphia: The First Eighty Years, 1893-1973, printed for the Club by Bird & Bull Press in 1973.

The Philobiblon Club in a sense founded itself eighty years ago. In the early part of the year 1893, the Pennyslvania Academy of the Fine Arts, inspired mainly by the enthusiasm of John Thomson and Harrison S. Morris, mounted an exhibition of rare books--some of them in fine bindings--drawn from the many private libraries of the city. The owners of these books were so taken with each other's society that they immediately organized a club to foster their common interest.

On April 26, 1893, a select group of bibliophiles received a printed invitation from the "temporary office" of The Philobiblon Club, Room 163 City Hall, Philadelphia, which read:

My Dear Sir:

It gives us pleasure to inform you that there has recently been organized in Philadelphia, a club of book-collectors and book lovers, name THE PHILOBIBLON CLUB, in the objects of which you will probably feel an interest.

We beg therefore to ask if we may not enroll you name as one of the original members of this association, and, on the other side, you will find a brief statement of the object of the Club. The annual dues have been fixed at ten dollars. An early answer will be esteemed a favor.

The Constitution and By-laws of the Philobiblon Club of Philadelphia was published that year. A charter was granted on May 6th by the Hon. Martin Russell Thayer, president judge of the Court of Common Please No. 4, with the names of George W. Childs, Samuel Wagner, Edward H. Coates, Harrison Morris, and John Thomson as subscribers. Provost William Pepper, Jr., distinguished physician, administrator, and citizen, was elected president and served for the first five years.

The purpose of the Club is thus stated in the Charter and in the above invitation:

The maintenance of a club to promote the arts pertaining to the production of books, the union of book-collectors, book-lovers, and those practically interested and engaged in said arts, the occasional publication of suitable books, and the encouragement of literary study, including the establishment of a library and the acquisition, furnishing, and maintenance of suitable premises for the safe-keeping of its property, wherein meetings, lectures, and exhibitions may take place from time to time.

The "suitable premises" were soon found in rented rooms on the top floor of 1324 Walnut Street, a narrow building with its entrance around the corner on the wet side of Juniper Street. These rooms were continuously occupied by the Club until July 15, 1921, which it was forced to vacate owing to the sale of the property and the demolition of the building to make way for the office building now on the premises. An earlier attempt in 1913-14 to find more suitable rooms for meeting by coming to an agreement with the Athenaeum had met with the violent opposition of several members of the board of the latter and had been abandoned. Now, a move was imperative; an era in the life of the Club was at an end.

Before the move, however, the second president, Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker in 1910 described what Club life was like in those days. "The Club has rooms of its own," he writes, "occupying the entire upper floor of a building upon the west side of Juniper Street below Walnut. . . . The way to the stars is up a long and crooked flight of stairs. Per aspera ad astra. After these difficulties have been surmounted, and the visitor, like Cook and Peary, has gone as far upward as he can, he reaches an ante-chamber. here are kept ale, cheese, and tobacco, with which to refresh those who may have listened to the discourses within the main hall or chamber. Around the walls of this chamber, in which the ceiling approximately approaches the floor, hang caricature portraits of some of those who have won distinction in the Club, for be it known that among those who here assemble are men deft with the pencil as well as the pen, and entirely capable of creating caricature. Others there are worthy of such commemoration. In the far corner stand the collections of rare books and ancient prints rich and ample in the opportunity for growth, and awaiting the increase. Two other small rooms complete the suite. Into one of them the lecturer is invited as a preliminary to the address he is about to deliver."

"Every organization of human individuals presently gives expression to the spirit which animates it and distinguishes it from all other assemblages, however like in character and similar in motive. The flavor of Madeira differs from that of every other product of the grape. There is no other club of book-lovers quite like the Philobiblon. There are those which are more stately, those which are more productive, those which are more prosperous, but non which have quite the same hold upon the fancies and affections. It is segregated and distinguished by a spirit of bonhomie and camaraderie."

The day of reckoning came, however, in 1921 when the Club received notice to vacate its quarters. From that day to this it has been a migratory tribe, holding its meetings in the quarters of other clubs or occasionally in the homes of its members. 

Meanwhile the Club rested uneasily at the Coin d'Or, an epicurean establishment at 251 South Camac Street, where the meetings were held until February 23, 1922, when Andrew Wright Crawford, Esq. delivered an address on Paul Cret's proposed site on the Parkway for the Sesqui-centennial. This was the first meeting to be held at the Franklin Inn Club, one block north on Camac Street, which from that time, with some vicissitudes and one major interlude, was its principal adopted home.