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New Paper on Philip Lee Phillips, the “King of Maps” for the Library of Congress

Today’s post is from Ryan Moore, a Cartographic Specialist in the Geography and Map Division.

The Philip Lee Phillips Map Society of the Library of Congress is pleased to announce its latest installment of The Occasional Papers: “The King of Maps: Philip Lee Phillips’ First Acquisitions Trips in the Deep South 1903 and Europe 1905.”

The paper’s author, Cheryl Fox, is a Specialist in the Library’s Manuscript Division. Ms. Fox had been researching the history of acquisitions at the Library during the tenure of Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam. After we examined some of Phillips’ material housed in the Geography and Map Division Vault, Ms. Fox, Geography and Map Division Chief Ralph E. Ehrenberg, and myself discussed developing a research paper specifically on Phillips. Her efforts have greatly expanded our knowledge of our group’s namesake.

Philip Lee Phillips was the first Superintendent of the Hall of Maps and Charts at the Library of Congress from 1897 to 1924. An excellent organizer and bibliographer, Phillips, however, lacked experience in acquisitions and relationship-building with map sellers and other librarians. Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam recognized Phillips’ talent and dispatched him on his first acquisitions trip in 1903 to New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama. Having lived in these cities as boy, Phillips had connections with members of the defeated Confederate government and military from whom he purchased documents relating to the Civil War, including a rare map of the Siege of Vicksburg that was printed on wallpaper.

Occasional Papers

Excerpt of the cover of the latest issue of The Occasional Papers (Series No. 11).

Putnam continued to encourage Phillips to develop his skills as a liaison for the Library of Congress. In 1905, he was sent to Europe to not only acquire rare maps but also to serve as a delegate of the American Library Association to the International Congress for Reproduction of Manuscripts, Coins and Seals in Liège, Belgium.

The trips marked an important development in his career. He devised a system for acquiring rare and unique cartographic materials, which helped to make the Library of Congress the foremost cartographic library in the United States. The Washington Post dubbed him “The King of Maps” in a profile published just after his trip in 1905. Fox’s paper includes reproductions of some of the most interesting maps and materials that Phillips selected personally while on acquisitions trips in the American South and Europe. These trips helped to widen and deepen the Library’s holdings and make the Geography and Map Division one of the premier collections of cartographic materials in the world.

The publication is available for members of the Philip Lee Phillips Map Society. For more information about membership and to read prior issues of The Occasional Papers, please click here.

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