American Collectors and the British Market for Rare Books c. 1890-1939: Two Perspectives

Laura Cleaver and Danielle Magnusson, Institute for English Studies, University of London

This lecture offers two perspectives on early twentieth century American collection of British rare books and manuscripts.

June 25, 2021 - 1:00 pm to 2:15 pm @ Zoom
Punch cartoon showing Uncle Sam standing next to a gravestone with British cultural treasures under his arm as ghost of William Shakespeare looks on. Uncle Sam says, "Now, that's real disappointing. I had my heart set on that skeleton." Shakespeare replies, "But all the same I should feel more comfortable if it was insured."

The early twentieth century has been characterized as a golden age of American book collecting. Many of those books were bought in Britain, where voracious American appetites for rare books and manuscripts became a popular stereotype, often accompanied by hand-wringing about the impact on British cultural heritage. This lecture aims to go beyond these stereotypes to explore what American collectors thought they were doing as well as how their collecting was reported in the press, and why, despite occasional public protests, the British did nothing to try to prevent books and manuscripts going to America. 

Image: Cartoon from the British magazine Punch, May 24, 1922.

Video Recording

Event Series