University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

John Frederick Lewis Papers

1882 - 1932
(bulk dates 1909 - 1928)

Manuscript Collection Number: 129
Accessioned: Moyerman Collection.
Extent: 4.6 linear feet and 75 volumes.
Content: Letterbooks, correspondence, deeds, wills, clippings, postcards, ephemera.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: April 1999, by Anne E. Krulikowski.

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Table of Contents

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Biographical Note

John Frederick Lewis (1860-1932) was born in Philadelphia to S. Weir and Caroline Kalbfus Lewis. Lewis graduated from Central High School in 1879, studied law under the Hon. George M. Dallas, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1882. In 1925, Lewis received the A.M. and LL.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. At first, Lewis was associated with Charles Gibbons, but eventually formed a partnership with Francis C. Adler and Francis S. Laws. The firm of Lewis, Adler & Laws acted as solicitor for the Philadelphia Bourse and the Philadelphia Maritime Commission. Many of the cases handled by Lewis involved collisions of ships and disputes arising over shipping cargoes. As an attorney who was knowledgeable in corporate financial affairs, Lewis served on the boards of several companies: as Director of the Farmers' and Mechanics' National Bank; as Vice-President of the Merchants Trust Company; and as President of the Malvern Electric Light, Heat and Power Company. He was an active member of the Law Association of Philadelphia and the Law Academy, and was a regular guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

The philanthropic interests of John Frederick Lewis were widely known. He was an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church and also was involved with the Young Peoples' Lutheran Association. He long supported the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, serving as Secretary of that institution for a period of time. The entire Lewis family was interested in charitable organizations and was often solicited for donations and sponsorship.

As a respected collector of rare books and fine art, Lewis assembled a noted collection of portraits of prominent men in American history. Lewis was particularly interested in portraits of George Washington and donated a number of likenesses of the first president to various Philadelphia schools and libraries. The book Collection of John Frederick Lewis American Portraits: Presented to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Other Institutions (1934) provides illustrations and descriptions of many of the portraits that Lewis owned.

Another collection reflected Lewis's literary interests: his study of early forms of writing and books led Lewis to collect cuneiform tablets and cones, as well as European and Oriental manuscripts. Lewis was often asked to give talks to art classes at the University of Pennsylvania and other art groups in the city on topics such as oriental art.

Like his portrait collection, most of Lewis' collections were donated to Philadelphia museums and libraries. Lewis and his wife donated more that 2,800 clay tablets, dating from 3,000 B.C. to 300 B.C., to the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. After her husband's death, Mrs. Lewis donated the collection of European and Oriental manuscripts to the same institution.

The knowledge gained while assembling his private collections led to prominent positions for Lewis with several of the city's cultural institutions. Among the many offices he held during his lifetime, Lewis served as President of the American Academy of Music, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Art Jury of Philadelphia; he served on the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia; and acted as Secretary of the Board of Managers of the Apprentices' Library of Philadelphia.

Because of his leadership in the business, philanthropic, and cultural circles of the city, Lewis was invited to be a member of a number of quasi-public advisory councils to several mayors and his opinions on current issues were solicited by the publishers of The Ledger, a Philadelphia newspaper.

In addition to his affiliations with the cultural institutions of the city, Lewis belonged to a number of social and special interest clubs, a few of which were The Wistar Party, The History Club, The Geneological Society, The Ice Skating Club and Humane Society (of which he served as President). Lewis was a thirty-third degree Mason.

The wide-ranging interests of John Frederick Lewis were the subjects of several books he authored. An examination of the early history of the city, The History Of An Old Philadelphia Land Title, 208 South Fourth Street was a book begun by his father and completed by Lewis in 1934. His interest in the Apprentices' Library was demonstrated by his book History of the Apprentices' Library of Philadelphia, 1820-1920, the Oldest Free Circulating Library in America. Finally, Lewis's interest in city planning led him to undertake an examination of The Redemption of the Lower Schuylkill: the River As It Was, The River As It is, The River As It Should Be. To mark the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar, Lewis wrote a book entitled Thomas Spry, Lawyer and Physician, about the first attorney admitted to practice English Law in the middle colonies.

Considered a gifted and entertaining orator, Lewis was often asked to speak at public events; several public talks were later published. At the dedication of the new Bourse building in 1895, Lewis delivered a speech entitled Philadelphia--A Short Oration. One of his speeches is included in John Marshall and Philadelphia: Dedication Exercises At The Statue of John Marshall, Art Museum, West Entrance, January 7th, 1930.

John Frederick Lewis had two brothers, Louis (a minister) and Howard; Howard was also an attorney in the city and active in many of the same financial and cultural institutions as his brother, John. Howard also served as President of the Atheneum. John Frederick Lewis married Anne H. Rush Baker Lewis in 1895. The Lewises had two sons: Alfred Gustavus Baker and John Frederick, Jr., both of whom became attorneys. In the 1920s, both joined the law firm of Lewis, Adler & Laws.


Collection of John Frederick Lewis American Portraits: Presented to The Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts And Other Institutions. Philadelphia: The Academy of Fine Arts, 1934.

Exercises at the Opening of the Main Building of The Free Library of Philadelphia Facing Logan Square. Philadelphia: The Free Library of Philadelphia. 1927.

In This Academy: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805-1976. A Special Bicentennial Exhibition. [Philadelphia]: The Academy. 1976.

Sketch of the Wistar Party of Philadelphia. Being a reprint of the edition of 1846 with a continuation to the present. Philadelphia: [Printed for the members only]. 1898.

Korey, Marie E. The Rare Book Department of The Free Library of Philadelphia. [Philadelphia]: The Free Library of Philadelphia. [1989].

Lewis, John Frederick. The History Of An Old Philadelphia Land Title, 208 South Fourth Street. Philadelphia: [Printed by Patterson & White Company], 1934.

-------. History Of The Apprentices' Library of Philadelphia, 1820-1920, The Oldest Free Circulating library In America. Philadelphia, 1924.

-------. Philadelphia: A Short Oration at the Dedication of the Philadelphia Bourse, December 31, 1895. Philadelphia: Burk & McFetridge, 1896.

-------. The Redemption Of The Lower Schuylkill: The River As It Was, The River As It Is, The River As It Should Be. Philadelphia: City Parks Association, 1924.

-------. Thomas Spry, Lawyer and Physician. Philadelphia, 1932.

Philadelphia Bar Association. John Marshall and Philadelphia: Dedication Exercises At The Statue of John Marshall, Art Museum, West Entrance, January 7th, 1930. Philadelphia, 1930.

Scope and Content Note

The papers of prominent Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist John Frederick Lewis span the dates 1882 to1932 and include letterbooks, correspondence, advertising brochures, legal documents, and ephemera. The papers primarily document the legal business of Lewis through his work at the firm Lewis, Adler & Laws, but also reflect social and domestic affairs of John Lewis and his wife, Anne Baker Lewis, as well as cultural interests, through development of personal collections and institutional affiliations.

For those interested in maritime law and the history of ships there is much information about both in the correspondence relating to many of the legal cases handled by John Frederick Lewis, particularly those cases dating from before the turn of the twentieth century. There is a small file relating to a Titanic case with which Lewis was involved, Nesson vs. S. S. Titanic.

Many details about the administrative workings of a number of Philadelphia's most prestigious cultural institutions are provided by the correspondence. Such information is especially prominent in the correspondence relating to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and The Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts. These letters relay a sense of how the leaders of these institutions regarded their activities and the roles of these institutions.

The correspondence relating to Lewis's collecting activities provides many details about prices for the types of portraits, oriental objects, and books in which he was interested. The effort and knowledge required to build such collections is an underlying theme of these letters, which also provide a look at the relationship of trust and respect that must be established between dealer and collector if such collections are to be created.

As biographical sources, the letterbooks and correspondence tell the story of a man who established a successful law practice that gained him the contacts to become a leader in many of the city's important cultural institutions, and put him in a financial position to amass significant collections of art works and to purchase a country seat at Morstein in Chester County, as many successful professional men did at that time. While Lewis appears to have often responded favorably to solicitations for donations and even occasionally to the many begging letters he received, his early active involvement in church and charitable organizations was largely given up for a leading role in more socially prestigious institutions.

These letters were written by a man concerned with his own affairs; "personal" letters relate to Lewis's many activities and positions in various institutions. Little truly personal information is included. Lewis rarely commented on current events, either in Philadelphia, the nation, or the world. During World War I, Lewis noted the war only in letters dealing with the practical arrangements for his position monitoring shipping along part of the eastern seaboard.

This correspondence provides a picture of the network formed by Lewis and many of his business and civic associates. This is particularly evident in letters concerning nominations for membership in or appointments to the boards of these institutions. The phrase to "keep the social tone up" was frequently used. Another connection that can be examined in this correspondence is that many of Lewis's associates, like Lewis himself, were Freemasons.

Related collections:

Mss 223 Henry Carvill Lewis papers

Mss 311 Baker-Fales-Rush Family papers

Mss 308 American Academy of Music papers

Arrangement note

The John Frederick Lewis Papers have been organized into five series. Series I is the collection of personal and office letterbooks of John Frederick Lewis, 1884-1932, as well as several that belonged to his law partner, Francis Adler. Seventy-five volumes are stored in twenty-seven archival boxes, each box containing two to four letterbooks. The range of dates for each volume provides identification for the individual letterbooks.

Series II contains incoming business correspondence, most of which has been arranged chronologically. Several files contain documents relating to specific legal cases with which Lewis was involved. Within the chronological files, there are letters relating to a variety of topics intermixed with the business correspondence. Much of the correspondence in this series is still adhered to binders from the original filing system: incoming correspondence was tipped onto page guards in a binder (frequently in order of date received).

Series III contains personal correspondence relating to social and domestic affairs that was addressed to Lewis or his wife, Anne Baker Lewis. This correspondence includes invitations, thank you notes, travel arrangements, correspondence relating to the Philadelphia house and the Morstein farm, as well as the collecting activities of John Frederick Lewis. There are a few letters relating to the books Lewis authored. A subseries of the correspondence is from Julia Lewis, the widow of Henry Carvill Lewis, a cousin of John Frederick Lewis.

Series IV contains correspondence relating to the many social, philanthropic, cultural, and civic activities of John Frederick Lewis. If the amount of correspondence relating to a specific insitution warranted, pertinent correspondence was chronologically arranged in a separate folder. Following folders on individual institutions are folders containing correspondence relating to all other cultural and municipal organizations with which Lewis was involved. These letters are arranged chronologically.

Series V contains several folders of unidentified items that have lost meaningful context through disorder. One folder contains stray pages of correspondence, which probably came out of the groups that were bound together in Series II. Researchers coming across letters in other series that do not seem complete are advised to consult this folder.

Series Outline

I.   Letterbooks, 1884-1932

II.  Business Correspondence

III. Personal Correspondence

     1.   Correspondence Addressed to John Frederick Lewis, 1882-1929
     2.   Correspondence Addressed to Anne Baker Lewis, 1909-1928
     3.   Papers Relating to Henry Carvill and Julia F. Lewis, 1885-1909
     4.   Correspondence Relating to 1914 Spruce Street, 1909-1928
     5.   Correspondence Relating to the Lewis Farm at Morstein, Chester County, 1909-1929
     6.   Correspondence Relating to Collecting Activities

IV.  Religious, Cultural, Philanthropic Activities

     1.   Old St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1882-1929
     2.   The Band Of Mercy, 1885-1910
     3.   The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1907-1928
     4.   The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1902-1926
     5.   Other Philanthropic, Cultural, Civic, and Social Activities

V.   Unidentified

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