Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Sentimental Library Collection

The collecting of books is inspired by a sentiment founded on reverence and hero worship. It would seem to follow that the more interesting the history of a particular copy of a book, the greater the appeal to the collector and the lover of literature.  If as Byron says, "a book's a book although there's nothing in it," surely a book is more than a book when the extra something in it takes the form of a presentation inscription by its author, or notes in the handwriting of a famous man who once owned and read it.

Harry B. Smith: A Sentimental Library 1914

I have more than a few books with that something extra in it in My Sentimental Library Collection.  These books give me a feeling of pleasure in knowing that a favorite author, a famous book collector, or someone else I admire once held this very book in his or her hands.  I get that same feeling when friends give me books.  And that is why their books stand tall on my bookshelves next to the spines of association copies in My Sentimental Library Collection.

One of my association copies is a book formerly owned by the English essayist and politician, Augustine Birrell (1850-1933).  The title of the book is Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton, London, 1910.

Augustine Birrell added his ownership inscription on the half-title page:

And in the margins of the book, Birrell posted his thoughts on the French Revolution, liberty and other related subjects.  I found Birrell's marginalia relevant because he was the Irish Secretary at the time of the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916.  Birrell was sacked immediately after this rebellion.

This extra something led to my writing of the essay "Hither-unpublished Obiter Dicta,"  one of the essays published by the Caxton Club in Other People's Books:  Association Copies and the Stories They Tell, Chicago, 2011:

Lectures on the French Revolution isn't the only book in My Sentimental Library Collection formerly owned by Augustine Birrell.  I have his copy of The Coming of the Friars, London, 1889:

Now this copy really has something extra: Augustine Birrell's bookplate, Vincent Starrett's bookplate and autograph, Christopher Morley Jr.'s autograph, and last but not least, an autograph note from Christopher Morley to his son:

O.M. stands for "Old Mandarin," Christopher Morley's nickname.

Vincent Starrett appears five more times in My Sentimental Library Collection.

I have his copy of A Descriptive Catalogue of the Library of Charles Lamb, New York, 1897.  We used this book to help catalogue Charles Lamb's library on Library Thing:

I have Starrett's copy of Dartmouth Verse 1922-1932, Hanover, 1932, given to him by one of the contributors, Alexander Laing, and with a lengthy and humorous inscription:

I have Starrett's copy of The Leigh Hunt Collection of Luther Albertus Brewer by J. Christian Bay, Cedar Rapids, 1933, given to him by the author:

And I have Starrett's copy of The Lovingood Papers 1964, Knoxville, 1964, given to him by Franklin Meine.  My friend Jonathan Meyers of St. Louis Books gave me this copy in 2006:

And last but not least, I have Harry B. Smith's copy of Vincent Starrett's book, Penny Wise and Book Foolish, New York, 1929:

Better known as one of America's great librettists, Harry Bache Smith (1860-1936), was the owner of perhaps the greatest collection of association copies in private hands.  His collection, which he called his Sentimental Library, contained association copies and presentation copies from the likes of Charles Dickens, Charles Lamb, Robert Browning, James Boswell, Leigh Hunt, and Alfred Tennyson, just to name a few.  Smith published a catalogue of his collection in 1914.  The complete title is A Sentimental Library:   Comprising Books Formerly Owned by Famous Writers, Presentation Copies, Manuscripts, and Drawings Collected and Described by Harry B. Smith. 

My copy of A Sentimental Library was formerly owned by Hugh Roberts Parrish (1900-1956), the nephew of Morris L. Parrish, whose  English Novelist Collection is at Princeton.  Hugh Roberts Parrish was no stranger to books himself, having worked in Philadelphia for Charles Sessler, Parrish and Co., and the A.S.W. Rosenbach Co..

Rosenbach bought Smith's collection.  When millionaires started buying up libraries in the early 1900s, Harry B. Smith could no longer compete with them, so he sold his Sentimental Library Collection en bloc to A. S. W. Rosenbach in 1915.

But Harry B. Smith continued to collect books.  He even tried his hand as a bookseller:

Mark Samuels Lasner browsed through Smith's bookseller catalogue when he visited my library in March 2010, and remarked that he thought Smith's prices were a bit high.  I agree:

Smith didn't have many sales at first, but he reissued his catalogue.  To further his own cause, he published a pamphlet containing glowing reviews and comments from the book world:

Smith had a second bookplate very similar to his librettist bookplate.  His friend Gene Buck engraved the bookplate for him. One of them is pasted in Smith's copy of Crowding Memories by Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Boston, 1920:

There was a second catalogue of Smith's library as well; an auction catalogue published after his death in 1936.  Crowding Memories is not listed in the catalogue, but Vincent Starrett's book, Penny Wise and Book Foolish is listed:

Of the many association copies in My Sentimental Library Collection, I have mentioned but a few.  By far, the most association copies are in my Mary Hyde Collection.  I will display and discuss my Mary Hyde Collection next month.

Finally, if you want to browse Harry B. Smith's Sentimental Library Collection, here is a link from Google Books.  But take your shoes off first!  Browsing this collection will knock your socks off!

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