From the Archives: Flame Fiends and Fire Demons


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Two unique books in the Davis Library’s collection are children’s books aimed at fire prevention. They contain some frightening images of what can happen if children are careless with fire safety. Valine Hobbs, the author of “Sparks: Fire Prevention Rhymes and Stories” published in 1926, wrote her book based upon the experiences of teaching her own third and fourth grade children. She writes that the purpose of the book is, “to present to small children most of the careless habits which, if indulged in will lead to ruin and sorrow.”

Sparks Fire Prevention Rhymes and Stories - book cover sparks021

The other book was written by Hallie L. Jameson, formerly state supervisor of English, Austin, Texas. “The Flame Fiend: A Text-Book on Fire Prevention” published in 1921, was written for a slightly older group of schoolchildren, and includes an entire chapter on insurance. theflamefiendtheflamefiend011




Relics of the 19th Century: Obsolete Currency Issued by Insurance Companies


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The history of paper currency in the United States is rich and diverse, reflecting the distinctive political and economic development of the country.  From the first paper bill issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1690 to the anti-counterfeiting design changes introduced in 1996, American paper money has witnessed a multitude of changes.  A particularly exciting period of monetary transformation was the Era of Free Banking in the early to mid-19th century.  This period saw the production of paper money from varied sources such as states, cities, municipalities and private industries like restaurants, churches and insurance companies.  After the charter of the Second US Central Bank expired in 1836, the country was left without a formal central bank, creating a vacuum that would be filled by private banks and insurance companies.

The Davis library at St. John’s University holds a collection of currency consisting of nonfederal notes issued by insurance companies during the 19th century.  These notes are referred to as obsolete currency because circulation stopped during the Civil War.  The collection features currency with intricately designed engravings, colorful typeface and notes printed on patterned paper.  The engravings and symbols on the currency and the paper it was printed on are illustrative of the times, revealing the ways in which people viewed themselves and their country as well as the methods used to deal with shortages in supplies.  Below are examples of privately issued paper money printed by insurance companies in the 19th century, both of which are available for viewing at the SJU Davis Library.

Adrian Insurance Company currencyThis intricately engraved currency was issued by the Adrian Insurance Company in the 1800s.  The document displays vignettes of agricultural workers (center), a Native American warrior with rifle (left) and a dog guarding a safe (lower right).  This item is hand signed by the Company’s President and Cashier and is over 100 years old.

Greensboro insurance company currencyThis fifty-cent 1862 note of deposit was issued by the Greensboro Mutual Life Insurance Company. The document displays black and red inks on paper printed in green with an ivy-like pattern, black “50” inside simple oval (top left), “50” in red (top right) and “50 CENTS” in red (center), a small standing female figure (left end) and an image of a one-candle chandelier (bottom right). The faded signature of the company’s treasurer, Dr. David P. Weir, is also displayed at the bottom right of the note.

Even in the early stages of the war, the printers of governmental currencies often found it difficult to locate or maintain adequate supplies of paper. Such shortages made it necessary to recycle paper or to use wallpapers and other types of paper not intended for printing money. Reportedly, the patterned paper on this Greensboro Mutual Life Insurance Company note is a type that craftsmen used to line the drawers in furniture or to paste inside keepsake boxes and other containers.




From the Archives: Featured Document


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By Adina Brizel

The Baltimore Life Insurance Company, founded in 1830, issued this list of rates of insurance during the presidency of John Donaldson, who was also one of the company’s directors. Although the exact year of this document is unknown, it is correct to assume it is dated before the Civil War.

Baltimore Life Insurance CompanyDue to pre- Civil War Maryland being a slave state, there is a specific section which mentions insurance rates that one can pay for one’s slaves. A table lists the rates of insurance of $100 on the life of a slave. The youngest slaves, starting at age 14, can be insured for a premium of $1.28 a year and a $1.54 premium per annum over seven years. The age caps out at 60, where one must pay a premium of $5.65 a year and $6.16 per annum over seven years.

Baltimore Life Insurance CompanyThis document notes that one is required to pay extra premiums for “Negroes employed in Engineer service, Coal Pits and Steamboats.” In addition, the rates were lower for white customers.

Baltimore Life Insurance Company

Thomas J. V. Cullen, Sr. Collection Donated to the Davis Library



The estate of Thomas J. V. Cullen of Orange County New York donated 47 boxes of his personal papers and books to the Kathryn and Shelby Collum Davis Library in April, 2015. Mr. Cullen passed away on May 22, 1966 in Washington D.C.

He received an A.B. degree from Fordham University, New York, NY in 1911. From 1913 to 1929 he was a statistician with The Spectator, an insurance publication in New York. He was editor of the Spectator from 1929 to 1961 and then editor in chief of that publication.

Mr. Cullen was also president of the Callen Farms Printing Company of Jeffersonville, New York; publisher of The Sullivan County record, a weekly newspaper of Jeffersonville, an a senior partner of the Thomas J. V. Cullen Insurance Agency of Goshen, N.Y.

He was actively involved in politics on the local and national level as well. He was the Orange County. N.Y. Democratic chairman from 1935 to 1953, and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from 1940 to 1952.

From the Archives: A. Leslie Leonard Collection

A. Leslie Leonard (1914-2011) was the first president of The College of Insurance from the College’s inception in 1962 until his retirement in 1984. This collection contains materials about and by Dr. A. Leslie Leonard, and his career as the first president of The College of Insurance, including biographical information, photographs, articles both by and about Leonard, and transcripts of speeches he gave at numerous conferences and awards dinners. This collection also contains a bound copy of his Ed.D. dissertation on the founding of The College of Insurance.

View the Finding Aid

A. Leslie Leonard

The Davis Library is moving


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As you may be aware, St. John’s University’s Manhattan Campus, including the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Library, will be relocating to 101 Astor Place (aka 51 Astor Place building).

The Library’s space at Astor Place is brand new but also limited. To fit most of our resources in the new space, we must rearrange our entire 112-year-old collection.  As we reorganize, we will also be taking the opportunity to reevaluate the Library’s services, procedures, and operating costs. As a result, the Davis Library will be closed to students, faculty, members and the general public from May 15th to August 3rd, 2014. Limited access and services will be provided only to students and faculty participating in summer classes at the new Manhattan Campus.

Please note the following changes related to our relocation:


·    A small part of the collection will be sent to an off-site facility.

·    Most of the collection will be transferred to the new location and distributed between the 2nd and concourse floors of the new campus.

·    The 2nd floor will be the public access area, with open stacks; the concourse area will be closed to the public and accessible only by staff. Most frequently used resources will be located on the 2nd floor. The rest will be in the concourse, including the journals/magazines, the historical collection, the Archives and rare books, and the subject files. All realia will also be in the concourse.


·    As of today, the Davis Library has temporarily suspended new memberships or renewals as we evaluate this part of our public service operations. Any changes to our membership policy will be announce early this fall.

·    Memberships that expire after May 14, 2014, a three month extension will be granted at no additional cost once we reopen.

New Address.

·    Our new address will be:

Davis Library
101 Astor Place
New York, NY 10003

·    Send mail to our new location only after June 16, 2014.

Books on Loan, OCLC Requests and Donations.

·    Please do not send books or OCLC requests to the Library between May 12 and June 16. After June 16, send borrowed books, OCLC requests, or donations to our new address at 101 Astor Place.

·    No fines or overdue charges will be levied during this period.


·    Telephone and fax numbers will remain the same.


The staff and Library’s email will remain the same.

·    Ismael Rivera-Sierra (
·    Richard Waller (
·    Galina Spicehandler (
·    Andrew Seville (
·    Davis Library (


·    During our reorganization, we expect to post more than 25,000 holdings to OCLC. Currently less than 15% of the Library’s holdings appears on OCLC. We estimate that in the future there will remain an additional 20,000 titles that will require posting to OCLC.


·    We expect to add to our online catalog approximately 15,000 analytical records of articles published in journals, magazines, books, and proceedings. Currently our online catalog contains 36,500 analytical records from sources dating back to the 1880’s.


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