If someone told me today that she was an autograph collector, I would assume she was collecting signatures of famous people, and not letters written by them.
The term, "autograph" has come a long way since Walter R. Benjamin (1854-1943) first published a periodical in 1887 devoted to the collection of autographs: The Collector: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Autographs. In the second issue, Benjamin wrote:
There is much confusion about the term "Autograph." An autograph is properly a letter either written or signed by a person. Autograph signatures should be spoken of as "Signatures." If this distinction is clearly understood much misunderstanding will be avoided.
Walter R. Benjamin modified his own interpretation of the term, "Autograph," expanding its meaning in a New York Sun interview in 1911. This interview was reprinted in the Jan-Mar 1957 issues of The Collector... by his daughter, Mary A. Benjamin (The Autograph Lady). Walter R. Benjamin wrote:
Nowadays, we call a signature an "autograph," and a signed letter either an "Autograph Letter Signed" or an "Autographed Letter Signed." Google "Autograph" and you will get about 48,400,000 hits. Google "Autograph Letter Signed" and you will get about 381,000 hits. Google "Autographed Letter Signed" and you will get about 262,000 hits. Both terms can be shortened to A.L.S. or even "ALS," but Google either of them and you will get about 2,130,000,000 hits, most of which refer to Lou Gehrig's disease.
Walter R. Benjamin preferred "Autograph Letter Signed" over "Autographed Letter Signed:"
I prefer "Autograph Letter Signed." All the letters in my autograph letter collection displayed here are either to or from authors and other people whose books I collect. Some but not all of these letters have been displayed on my moislibrary.com website.
It is only fitting that the first autograph letter I should display is an autograph letter written to Walter R. Benjamin by Harry B. Smith (1860-1936):
It is Benjamin's fourth class of autograph, fully written by Harry B. Smith, renowned librettist, and book collector. It is a contents letter at that, instructing Benjamin to bid on certain items of a Sotheby auction on Smith's behalf. I should research these items to see if they are included in Smith's A Sentimental Library.
The first autograph letter I acquired, almost ten years ago, which was also of the fourth class of autographs, came with an autograph of the first class, a signature. The Cleveland book collector Paul Lemperly (1858-1939) would buy a copy of an author's work and mail the book to the author for his signature. Lemperly hired E.D. French to engrave an elaborate bookplate to paste in the book for the author to sign. The bookplate read, " This volume, for insertion in which the author has been pleased to write his name, _________________ is the property of Paul Lemperly." Lemperly got a bonus when he sent a copy of Ardours and Endurances to its author the English War Poet Robert Nichols; Nichols pasted an autograph letter to the book:
Here is a description of the letter. I should note that it was the A. Edward Newton collector David Klappholz who brought this ebay auction to my attention, opening up an interesting offshoot for My Sentimental Library Collection. Thank you Dave!
The next letter, signed by the bibliographer and librarian Wilberforce Eames (1855-1937) is of the third class of autograph letter, basically a signed document acknowledging receipt of two books given to the New York Library by Frederick H. Hitchcock (1867-1928), the publisher of both books:
Here's another letter written in the Lenox Library, but this one is more of the fourth class, a full autograph letter written by the bibliographer and librarian S. Austin Allibone (1816-1889). It is addressed to Thomas D. Suplée, thanking him in an informal and personal way for sending a copy of The Life of Theodorick Bland Pryor, First Mathematical-Fellow of Princeton College:
Since we are on bibliographers, here's a rather strange method of response from the bibliographer Jacob Blanck (1906-1974) to a letter from the Ohio bookseller Paul H. North:
The next autograph letter is of the second class; Christopher Morley (1890-1957) is responding to a request for a photograph:
Christopher Morley is present again in an A.N.S (Autograph Note Signed):
I needed help from Stephen Rothman, editor of The Baker Street Journal, to identify who O.M. was.
Another example of the second class of autograph is Edward Martin's reply to a request for a photograph:
I own a book from the library of Edward Martin (1879-1967). There was a bookplate pasted on the inside cover. Who is Edward Martin? In 2004, I wrote an article for the online AB Bookman's Weekly about the bookplate: The Story of a Bookplate. I eventually acquired Martin's autobiography, Always Be On Time.
Some of my friends may remember an October 2007 blog post about a letter from George Birkbeck Hill (1835-1903) to a still-unidentified American book collector. In the top left-hand corner, someone had written the name "Cowan." I thought it might be Robert Ernest Cowan (1862-1942), and acquired one of his letters from the New York bibliophile David W. Lowden to compare the handwriting:
Cowan it is not –– or at least Cowan was not the one whose marginalia was written in the book. It is possible, though not likely, that Cowan was the recipient of Hill's letter.
Some recipients are easier to identify. The T.L.S (Type Letter Signed) to "Mary" from L.P. Curtis was to Mary Hyde (1912-2003) and was inserted in her copy of Curtis's book, Chichester Towers:
A harder recipient to identify was in the note inserted in the book I found in Umatilla Florida!
One of my oldest letters is an 1848 letter written by the English author Henry Hallam (1777-1859), accepting an invitation to breakfast with a "Lord" whose name I can't decipher:
Another English writer whose autograph letter I have is Edward Arber (1836-1912), best known as the editor of the eight-volume English Garner series:
Shortly after the publication of his book, Obiter Dicta, Augustine Birrell (1850-1933) received a letter from a woman who was going to review his book in an Oxford publication. I have his reply:
"Hither-unpublished Obiter Dicta," was the title of my essay the Caxton Club published in Other People's Books: Association Copies And the Stories They Tell in March 2011. My essay was about Birrell's annotated copy of Lord Acton's Lectures on the French Revolution.
Authors are often asked to review works from unpublished authors. Here is how the American poet Edward A. Guest (1881-1959) handled such a request:
I have a decent collection of books by and about the English Poet Austin Dobson (1840-1921), and an autograph letter from him concerning an anniversary dinner of the Royal Literary Fund he could not attend:
I also have an autograph letter to Austin Dobson from Hartley Carrick that Carrick inserted in Dobson's copy of The Diary of John Evelyn. It serves as a presentation note:
Here's a letter to the Leigh Hunt Collector and Torch Press Publisher Luther A. Brewer (1858-1933) from W.L Washburn thanking him for Brewer's review of one of his works:
The author, publisher, and bibliophile, Henry H. Harper (1871-1953) inserted a T.L.S. inside the copy of Library Essays that he sent to John G. Milburn:
The American author John Preston responded to the American writer Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977), thanking him for his kind words about his book, The Liberals:
Here's a letter from the American writer Brander Matthews(1852-1929) which accompanied his payment of dues to the National Institute of Arts, Sciences & Letters:
The English publisher John Murray IV (1851-1928) bought some woodcuts from the American artist J.J. Lankes (1884-1960), sending payment via registered letter from Barclays Bank as well as an autograph letter:
The Johnsonian William K. Wimsatt, Jr. (1907-1975) typed an interesting letter to the Johnsonian Alan Hazen (1904-1977) concerning anonymous quotations and quotations attributed to Johnson in Johnson's Dictionary. Wimsatt wrote out a "P.S." to the T.L.S. and then included a mimeograph sheet of some of the anonymous quotations:
Hazen inserted Wimsatt's letter inside the copy of Wimsatt's book, Philosophic Words: A Study of Style and Meaning in the Rambler and Dictionary of Samuel Johnson that Wimsatt had given him.
The most recent autograph letter I acquired was from the Rare Book Room of the Strand Book Store on Broadway in New York on September 12, 2011. It is a letter from Adrian H. Joline (1850-1912) written to Gen. William S. Stryker congratulating him on his honorary LL.D. degree. The letter was inserted in a copy of Adrian Joline's Edgehill Essays by a former owner –– not Stryker; he has no connection with the book other than Joline's letter being inserted:
A belated entry –– and only because I just acquired a book by her on Oct. 1st –– is an autograph letter from the American essayist Agnes Repplier (1855-1950). Agnes Repplier was a bibliophile, and some of her essays are about books. I've seen a photo of her having tea at A. Edward Newton's library. In the letter below, she is expecting a certain Mrs. Hopkins from Baltimore for a visit:
I believe this "Mrs. Hopkins" is the author Margaret Sutton Hopkins (1864-1941) who wrote under her maiden name, Margaret Sutton Briscoe.
I keep most of my autograph letters in acid-free page protectors in a three-ring binder. Some of my autograph letters remain in the books they came with. Inserted in a copy of Carolyn Horton's Cleaning and Preserving Bindings and Related Materials, and serving as a presentation note is an A.L.S from the publisher Herbert Hanna to the bookbinder and book conservator Harold Tribolet (1911-1983):
My friends will recognize this T.L.S. from the bookseller and all-around bibliophile William Targ. It is inserted in John Richardson Starrs's copy of Targ's The Pauper's Guide to Book Collecting:
Inserted in a copy of All in a Century: The First 100 Years of Eli Lilly and Company is a T.L.S. to the bibliophile Frederick B. Adams, Jr. (1910-2001) from Eli Lilly (1885-1977). The Lilly firm made its money in pharmaceuticals, but the Lilly name is known in the book world because of J.K. Lilly, Jr. (1893-1966) and his Lilly Library at Indiana University:
Inserted in a copy of The Silent Traveler in New York is an impressive note to Frederick B. Adams Jr. from the author of the book, Chiang Yee:
Ellen Shaffer thought she recognized the name and writing of a former patron of Glen Dawson's book store in Los Angeles. She did! Her letters are inserted in J.C. Dykes's copy of Four Talks for Bibliophiles:
Both autograph letters below serve as "presentation letters" and remain in my copy of Letters of Sir Thomas Bodley to Thomas James, First Keeper of the Bodleian Library:
The Bodleian Library first opened its doors in 1602. Sir Thomas Bodley's letters were written from 1599 to 1613. Strickland Gibson, Sub-Librarian at the Bodleian Library, presented this book of letters to L.F. Powell (1881-1975) "...in appreciation of his valuable services to the Samuel Johnson Exhibition (Bodleian Library) November 1934."
L.F. Powell presented this book to Donald Hyde (1909-1966) in 1962 "...in appreciation of your magnificent gift to the great library in which as a young man I learned my trade."
What was Donald Hyde's magnificent gift? Donald Hyde paid for the repair to the ceiling of Duke Humphrey's Library at the Bodleian:
Duke Humphrey's Library at the Bodleian was first completed in 1487 and rededicated in 1602. Truly a magnificent building and a fitting photo finish to the display of my autograph letter collection!