A walk along Market Street in downtown Wilmington, Delaware will reveal a number of architectural styles, from one block to the next you’re likely to see late Georgian to Second Empire, to Classical Revival. But, if you are looking for history, it’s the Art-Deco styled, former F. W. Woolworth building that now houses the Delaware History Museum and Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage you’ll want to visit. Together, these museums are home to permanent and rotating exhibits that chronical the First State’s rich history as well as the heritage of African Americans in Delaware.
Through a series of five culminating exhibits, the Delaware Historical Society, curators of the Delaware History Museum, will present highlights from the Paul Preston Davis Collection of Delawareana, an important and vast collection of rare business trade cards, photography, African Americana, rare print materials, and commemorative objects.
Mr. Paul Preston Davis, a retired Delmarva Power executive who’s spent more than four decades collecting thousands of items, generously donated his collection to the Historic Society in late 2018. The exhibition “Collecting Wilmington: Place, Perspective & Memory” relates to Wilmington’s businesses during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection will cover five specific areas, including: 12,000 pieces of Wilmington business ephemera, more than 7,000 rare and early photographs, including the works of most major 19th century Wilmington photographers, 230 one-of-a-kind objects and artifacts, and 40 boxes of African Americana from around the state and Civil War Delawareana that will be added to the collection by late 2020.
Each portion of the collection will remain on display as subsequent reveals are held. The five exhibits will be revealed as follows:
•Reveal 1: Business Ephemera, October 1, 2019
•Reveal 2: Rare Books and Print Materials, November 14, 2019
•Reveal 3: Sheet Music, January 14, 2020
•Reveal 4: Watches and Commemorative Objects, March 3, 2020
•Reveal 5: Wilmington Photography, May 6, 2020
Mr. Davis’s collecting journey began at age nine with an unusual gift…an 18th century ledger from Philadelphia passed down by his aunt. Even as he collected comic books and baseball cards with his friends, Davis recognized the ledger’s significance. Later, while serving in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, he gravitated to book shops and flea markets during his days off in port. Back in Delaware, his collecting began in earnest with a focus on children’s books and materials related to famed Wilmington illustrator Howard Pyle
During the 1960s, while rising through the ranks at Delmarva Power, Davis shifted his energies to focus on Wilmington business ephemera. He often traveled to Lancaster, PA, a regional hub for paper collecting, and developed relationships with dealers throughout the Delaware Valley. Over the next four decades, he built a collection of ephemera that reveals the development of Wilmington during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In conjunction with the exhibits, the Delaware Historical Society has planned evening programs exploring segments of the collection, with hands-on activities. For more information on these events visit www.dehistory.org.