Scope and Content of Collection
The E. Roderick and Arthur Shipley papers consists primarily of artifacts and documents associated with late nineteenth and early twentieth century life in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore, Maryland. The majority of the collection cannot be precisely dated, but dated material ranges from 1901-1975. The principal component of the collection is E. Roderick Shipley's collection of pickers' checks. These artifacts may have been used as early as the 1880s and continued to be used until the 1930s. Documentation associated with this portion of the collection dates as late as 1975. This portion of the collection also contains documents and miscellaneous material associated with the pickers' checks.
During the period from approximately 1880 to 1930, an economic system based on the production of vegetable and fruit crops for sale in nearby urban centers developed in Anne Arundel County. One aspect of this system was the use of tokens by the farmers or landowners to pay seasonal laborers fro harvesting the crops. These tokens, called pickers' checks, were either exchanged for cash at intervals during the course of the season or were directly exchanged for goods at nearby stores. As an interstate system of paved roads developed in the twentieth century, the prices of crops produced in Anne Arundel County became less competitive in comparison to produce grown in other states. Consequently, the use of pickers' checks was entirely discontinued entirely sometime before World War II.
Documentary materials in the collection indicate that the majority of those engaged to pick crops in Anne Arundel County under this system were immigrants of Polish or other Eastern European descent, who lived south of Pratt Street in the Fells Point neighborhood of East Baltimore. Many of these workers were not fluent in English and were recruited and supervised by a rowboss, who acted as an interpreter and facilitator for the less experienced pickers; in many cases, it appears that the rowbosses exploited this system for their own gain. Women, children, or older people who did not hold other jobs in the city comprised most of this work force.
The Shipley collection pickers' checks are artifacts of this relationship between Maryland farmers and seasonal workers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The documents in the collection interpret this tangible evidence of an economic system that formerly operated in the county. Written both during and after the period in which the checks were used, these notes and articles contain descriptions of the activities with which the checks were associated, recounted from the point of view of the farmers who grew the produce. The ideas and viewpoints of the people who were paid with the checks are not represented in the collection.
The collection also includes historic artifacts other than pickers' checks. These include several farm-related implements, a "magic" lantern with glass slides, buttons, a sleigh bell, and a book stamp. Several are directly associated with the Shipley family, and others are of uncertain or unknown association. In addition, there are several pieces of memorabilia related to Arthur M. Shipley's military service in World War I.
The remaining material in the Shipley Collection consists of ten play bills from the 1901-1902 theater season in Baltimore and 111 photographs. The subjects of the photographs are primarily related to pickers' checks but several images of family members and family homes are also included. Two of these photographs are of probable early twentieth-century origin, and the remainder post-date 1950.