Skip to main content

Olive Percival collection

 Collection
Identifier: D-Mss-0001

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Olive Percival Collection contains commercially-produced and handmade valentines dating from the 1820s to the 1930s, handmade paper dolls, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, miniature hats, doll clothes, antique dolls, antique toys, miniature tea sets, textile samples, clothing, decorated boxes, correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, and advertisements from the late 1800s through the 1930s. The collection covers the years from the 18th Century to the 1930s with the bulk of the material ranging from the mid 1800s to the late 1930s.

This collection, with the exception of Series 1, 2, and 11, consists primarily of nontextual materials.

The collection is organized into 13 series: Series 1. Biographical and Related Material, 1901-present and undated Series 2. Ephemera, 1848-1938 and undated Series 3. Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Tintypes (Ferrotypes) and Related Material Series 4. Dolls and Related Material Series 5. Doll Clothes Series 6. Doll Furniture Series 7. Doll Dishes and Tea Sets Series 8. Miniature Hats Series 9. Paper Dolls and Related Material Series 10. Toys and Related Material Series 11. Valentines and Related Material Series 12. Decorated Boxes including Cheese Boxes Series 13. Textiles

Dates

  • 1800-1939

Creator

Language of materials

Languages represented in the collection: English.

Access

This collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to reproduce or to publish must be submitted in writing to Ella Strong Denison Library.

Biography

Olive May Graves Percival was born in a log cabin on July 1, 1868 near Sheffield, Illinois. She was the daughter of John Howard Percival, a farmer, and Helen Mason Percival. She had two siblings, an older brother, Leo, and a younger sister, Edna. In May of 1887, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and sister. On the banks of the Arroyo Seco, she lived a life surrounded by friends and immersed in the beauty of her home and garden.

During her lifetime, Olive Percival was a poet, an author of four books, a clerk for Home Insurance Company for over thirty years, and a collector of many fine things including ten thousand books, many of them eighteenth and nineteenth century children’s books. She was active in the Friday Morning Club, a well-known woman’s service organization as well as a book and social club, and regularly contributed to the Los Angeles Times, writing articles whose subject matter ranged from women’s suffrage to gardening. .

Prominent in the social life of the rapidly growing city of Los Angeles, and friends with such persons as artists William and Julia Wendt and book-collectors George and Alice Millard, Olive frequently entertained her guests with delightful “at-home-nights,” one of the highlights of the winter season. She loved to travel, to learn, to read, and to write. She loved peace, harmony, and beauty, and expressed all of these in the home that she built, the garden in which she invested so much time, in the books that she wrote and those that she collected, and in the diaries that she kept.

Perhaps influenced by memories of an unhappy childhood, and a great longing for children of her own, Olive Percival collected items sometimes perceived to be within a child’s purview. The items in the Olive Percival Collection at the Ella Strong Denison Library include representations of eighteenth and nineteenth century popular culture such as valentines, dolls, toys, tea sets, hand-made paper dolls created by her, and a collection of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. Also representative of her penchant for home life and beauty, the collection includes textile samples dating from the early 17th century through the 20th century, including some fabrics designed by the William Morris Company and scraps of material worn by family members and people of historic importance.

Olive loved to travel and filled her trips with visits to museums, lectures, plays and artists and/or influential people. With these trips and acquaintances, Olive gained insight and connections that would serve her collections and her love of learning. Olive was very generous with her collections, allowing them to be a part of exhibitions all over the United States. She also organized several other shows herself of artists’ work, notably an American etching show that included works by James Whistler, and a bookplate exhibit, both of which were lauded by critics.

Olive lived during an eventful era in both California and the nation’s history, witnessing firsthand the franchising of women in California, WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII. Being of a “pioneer generation of office women”, Olive lamented the inequities that existed between men and women in the workplace and labored in a position she loathed in order to provide for herself, her mother, and her collections. After 33 ½ years, Olive resigned from the Home Insurance Company and, at her request, was awarded a pension, an unprecedented event for women in the company.

Olive had a sharp wit and, according to her friend and correspondent, had a “capricious, rebellious and daring streak in her soul.” She once denounced the San Francisco Board of Education as “seven-different-kinds of-an-ass” for its attempts to force segregation upon Japanese students (1907). Many considered her “ultra liberal, democratic views on the Oriental questions” “un-American”. In retaliation, Olive joined the DAR and the Society of Mayflower Descendants, in addition to memberships in several Japanese societies.

Although a self-titled “spinster”, Olive had suitors and longed for children of her own. Unfortunately, in her diary, she relays that men she admired never admired her, “not until they have married and gotten a new perspective, at least.” Perhaps those most interested in a pretty face and a docile manner in a wife, realized too late how much more interesting an “unclassical profile” and “strong minded” woman could be. Olive turned down at least two proposals of marriage to men she found uninteresting.

Olive’s life was lived on two planes, one filled with the “soul benumbing” drudgery of office work that brought no joy, and the other plane she created with humble means in humble surroundings-a sublime place of gardens, books, dolls, and animals. Olive was often brought low in her moods concerning the former; the latter consolations kept her from unhappiness. Olive wrote that, overall however, the life [she] planned, wanted, was immensely different” than the one she lived. A complex, real human, Olive Percival died 19 Feb 1945 and was generous in bequeathing her possessions to those who would most cherish them as she did; friends, mentors, UCLA, the Huntington Library, and Scripps College all benefitted from portions of her collections. After her death, a portion of her estate was set aside pay for the publishing of two of her books. The Olive Percival Collection contains commercially-produced and handmade valentines dating from the 1820s to the 1930s, handmade paper dolls, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, miniature hats, doll clothes, antique dolls, antique toys, miniature tea sets, textile samples, clothing, decorated boxes, correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, and advertisements from the late 1800s through the 1930s. The collection covers the years from the 18th Century to the 1930s with the bulk of the material ranging from the mid 1800s to the late 1930s.

Chronology

Chronology of Olive Percival’s Life

1868 Jul 1
  • Born in a log cabin in Sheffield, Illinois
  • 1887 May
  • Moved to Los Angeles with her mother and sister
  • 1891 Jun 22
  • Began insurance career with G. F. McLellan’s fire insurance office
  • 1895 Oct 19
  • Began work with The Home and Phoenix Insurance Companies
  • 1899 May 8
  • Chose site for new house in the Arroyo Seco area of Los Angeles
  • 1899 Sep 6-29
  • Traveled to Mexico
  • 1901
  • Published Mexico City, an Idler’s Note-Book
  • 1903 – 1904
  • Traveled by train to New England and New York
  • 1905 Nov 24
  • Presented “Children’s Books of 1805” at the Friday Morning Club
  • 1910
  • Traveled by train to New England, New York, and Washington, D.C.
  • 1911
  • Published Leaf-Shadows and Rose-Drift
  • 1913 Fall
  • Began work on manuscript of “The Children’s Garden Book”
  • 1915 Nov 5-19
  • Visited the Pacific Exposition in San Francisco
  • 1918 Aug 24
  • Wrote in diary of her plans to create the “Olive Percival Library”
  • 1920 Oct 19
  • Celebrated twenty-fifth anniversary at The Home Insurance Co.
  • 1921 Jun 15
  • Elected to membership in Society of Mayflower Descendants
  • 1922-1924
  • Created majority of paper dolls in her collection
  • 1928 Feb 13
  • Olive Percival’s mother, Helen Mason Percival, dies in Los Angeles
  • 1929 Mar 30
  • Retired from The Home Insurance Co.
  • 1929 Apr 8
  • Awarded monthly pension of $150 (full salary)
  • 1935
  • Began friendship with Jack Masse
  • 1936 Jan 5
  • Owned nearly ten thousand books
  • 1939 Fall
  • Lent forty-five rare children’s books to the Pasadena Public Library for exhibit
  • 1945 Feb 19
  • Died in Pasadena, California
  • Extent

    67 boxes

    Abstract

    The Olive Percival Collection contains commercially-produced and handmade valentines dating from the 1820s to the 1930s, handmade paper dolls, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, miniature hats, doll clothes, antique dolls, antique toys, miniature tea sets, textile samples, clothing, decorated boxes, correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, and advertisements from the late 1800s through the 1930s. The collection covers the years from the 18th Century to the 1930s with the bulk of the material ranging from the mid 1800s to the late 1930s.

    Physical location

    Please consult repository.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Bequest of Olive Percival, 1945.

    Accruals

    No additions to the collection are anticipated.

    Creator

    Title
    Guide to the Olive Percival collection
    Status
    In Progress
    Author
    Ingrid Johnson (2006), Sally Ellis (2011), Revised by ???
    Date
    2014
    Language of description
    Undetermined
    Script of description
    Code for undetermined script

    Repository Details

    Part of the 02 - Ella Strong Denison Library Repository

    Contact:
    1030 Columbia Ave
    Claremont 91711 United States US