In April 2019, Sean Briody ’19 took first place in the John Russell Bartlett Society Stillwell Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting for his distinguished collection of Brunoniana from the 19th and 20th centuries. His collection of Brown University materials is notable for the dense web of personal connections to Brown that are documented in each of the books. A lover of libraries, Sean has worked in the Brown University Library during all four of his undergraduate years at Brown. He attributes his love for book collecting to his work here.
Sponsored by the John Carter Brown Library’s John Russell Bartlett Society, the Stillwell Prize is named in honor of the late Margaret Bingham Stillwell, Brown Class of 1909, the University’s first woman Professor of Bibliography, a renowned scholar of early printing, and Librarian at the Annmary Brown Memorial. The Stillwell Papers are housed in the University Archives.
The Brown Band
Sean was appointed historian of the Brown Band during his sophomore year and was asked to organize the partially unprocessed collection of Brown Band materials at the Hay. Through this connection, the Band donated additional papers to the archives, bringing the collection from 15 to 21 boxes. During this time, Sean also curated the exhibit, Ever True: A History of the Brown Band, at Orwig Music Library, after soliciting items from alumni, including a uniform from the Band’s founder, Irving Harris, and a 1927 Victor record of the Band–the first Brown musical group to be professionally recorded. According to Holly Snyder, Curator of American Historical Collections and the History of Science, and Sean’s supervisor at the Hay, “His interests in collecting, curation, and many different aspects of Brown’s history are truly outstanding.”
The Hay staff was so impressed with Sean’s work on the Band archive that he was hired as a collections assistant to catalog and organize parts of the Lownes Collection, the Rush Hawkins Collection, the Porter Collection of Washington Portraits, and a recent gift of important books from Dan Siegel ’57.
Finding Hidden Gems
Sean has a knack for finding hidden gems in the stacks. While working in Circulation at the Rock, he noticed an interesting report from the 1867 Anti-Slavery Conference in Paris, inside of which he found an inscription to Theodore Weld from William Lloyd Garrison.
Reverend lysander dickerman
Later, he was browsing a collection of Egyptian travelogues when he came across a boxed book with “Rock (Temporary)” on the spine. Within the box was a finely bound auction catalog with newspaper clippings pasted atop each page. The book, which details the Rev. Joseph Thompson’s trip to Egypt in 1853, is also a scrapbook of sorts, compiled by Rev. Lysander Dickerman (1825-1902), Brown Class of 1851, a lecturing Egyptologist in the 1880s and 1890s. After his death, Rev. Dickerman’s widow donated his library to Brown, along with his lectures and accompanying glass lantern slides. This volume sparked an interest in Dickerman for Sean. He consulted the original accession registers to reconstruct Dickerman’s library. In December 2018, Sean performed a costumed reenactment of Dickerman’s lecture, “The Pharaohs,” before an audience of professors, students, and library staff at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.
In his work as a collections assistant at the Hay, Sean has been particularly intrigued by the personal library of General Rush C. Hawkins, the husband of Annmary Brown. Hawkins’s collection of incunabula is catalogued, but his personal library has remained untouched since 2004, when item records were created but nothing further was done. The collection contains many treasures. Among those Sean has found so far are a book that belonged to King Louis Philippe (and also bears a gift inscription to Annmary Brown from her uncle John Carter Brown (1797-1874); a book that may have belonged to George Washington; William Lloyd Garrison’s Works, inscribed by the author to Nicholas Brown III (1792-1859); and a second edition of Robinson Crusoe (1719). According to Sean, “Not only are there many valuable research tools in the collection, but these books give a rare insight into the personal life of the Brown family–a popular research topic. Nicholas Brown III was minister to Rome during the European Revolution of 1848, and thus any of his books that relate to his travels in Europe are important for study.”
One of Sean’s favorite things at the Library is the Sidney S. Rider Collection. He describes Rider as an amazing collector: “Almost every book has something special added to it–maybe it’s a badge from a monument unveiling, a photograph, or an inscription from Moses Brown. Regardless, it’s the best resource for Rhode Island history around.”
North Burial Ground
In addition to his work at the Library, Sean is a records management and genealogy specialist intern for the North Burial Ground in Providence. The cemetery has existed since 1700, but official records were not kept until 1848. Sean is indexing these print records. He has also created some new tours for the cemetery, focused on topics including Brown University, black heritage, and Rhode Island politics.
Originally from Commack, NY on Long Island, Sean has found Providence to be “rainy, but a blast.” He will remain in Rhode Island for at least a couple more years since he is entering the MA program in public humanities at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage this fall. He looks forward to continuing exploration into the management of both object and paper archives, his primary focus of study.