Columbia’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library Receives Collection of Printed Ephemera

NEW YORK, February 23, 2007 An exceptional collection of printed ephemera has been donated to Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library by Robert Biggert in honor of Lisa Ann Riveaux. The unique assemblage of over 1,300 items of commercial stationery with architectural imagery spans the dates 1850 to 1920. The collection’s billheads, letterheads, envelopes, checks, and business cards therefore document the rise of the United States as an industrial nation, in often elaborate vignettes of factories, warehouses, mines, offices, stores, banks, and hotels.


"This collection is quite extraordinary, " commented Andrew Dolkart, James Marston Fitch Professor of Historic Preservation in Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. "Not only because the individual items of stationery represent buildings that are rarely illustrated elsewhere, including many buildings that have been demolished, but because it also opens up a new field of research, using a type of resource not previously exploited by the historian of the built fabric."

The material offers a wealth of possibilities for architectural historians, as well as students of commerce and graphic design. There are numerous images from the same businesses over successive decades, which show how their buildings grew over time in tandem with changes in typographic taste. Over forty-five states are represented by examples, as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. possessions. New York City is particularly well-documented, with over one hundred items portraying structures below Houston Street alone. Industries range from livestock, textiles, printing, roofing, and brewing to wagon works, cordage, and merchandising.


The collector was encouraged in his interest by Herbert Mitchell, retired Avery bibliographer, whom he met at an Ephemera Society of America conference, when the latter was assembling for Avery Library what is now the largest collection of catalogs of the American building trades in existence. "We are extremely grateful to Robert Biggert for his outstanding expertise and generosity," said Claudia Funke, Curator of Rare Books. "This material complements perfectly Avery’s extensive collections of American trade catalogs and city and town view books. Together the three form an unrivalled resource for understanding American architecture, industry, and urbanism."

The collection, which is fully arranged by state, city, and company, is available to researchers by appointment in the Avery Classics rare book reading room.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library is one of the most comprehensive collections relating to architecture and the fine arts in the world. Avery collects a full range of primary and secondary sources for the advanced study of architecture, historic preservation, art history, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archeology. The Library contains more than 400,000 volumes, including 35,000 rare books, and receives approximately 1,000 periodicals. Avery’s Drawings and Archives collection includes one million architectural drawings and records. The Library is home to the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, an operating program of the Getty Research Institute, which is the only comprehensive American guide to the current literature of architecture and design.