University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Collectors, Libraries, and "Friends"

Volume XXXVI · 1983 
Collectors, Libraries, and "Friends"

Introduction of Mina R. Bryan by Rowland L. Collins

At the annual meeting of the Friends of University of Rochester Libraries, May 19, 1982, Mina R. Bryan, noted bibliophile, gave the Fourth Annual Robert F. Metzdorf Lecture. Dr. Metzdorf was a University alumnus, '33, and received the University's first Ph.D. in English in 1939. He was a member of the faculty and a rare book librarian at the University, and although he left Rochester for a distinguished career as a librarian, bookman, and independent appraiser of manuscripts and books, he remained a loyal alumnus, a generous donor to and supporter of the University Libraries, and served a number of years as a University Trustee.

It is my great pleasure to introduce our speaker this evening, not only because she has been a good friend of mine for nearly 20 years, but also because she is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world of books today. I am especially touched to present Mina Bryan as the fourth person to address the Friends in memory of Robert F. Metzdorf, because it was she who first introduced me to Bob in the fall of 1965, back when I knew very little about the University of Rochester. Luckily for me, I was to come to know Mina, Bob, and this University much better in the years to come. And tonight's tribute to him marks a reunion, at least of forces, which I value highly.

Mina Reuse was born in Sidney, Ohio, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in History from the College of Wooster. Her first job was an unusual one which turned out to be the major shaping force on her intellectual life. John Hinsdale Scheide, the great bibliophile from Titusville, Pennsylvania, came to Wooster to find a secretary and librarian, inexperienced but bright, who could learn his many interests, help him build his library, and assist him in managing his affairs. For 13 years Mina worked in one of the greatest private libraries of the twentieth century. She learned and learned and became accustomed to handling a Gutenberg Bible, medieval manuscripts, the only complete first edition of  Pilgrim's Progress, a broadside of the Declaration of Independence, the only Anglo-Saxon codex in private hands, priceless pieces of early Americana, as well as incunabula of the greatest rarity. When Mr. Scheide died in 1942, Mina moved to Princeton to become the associate editor of the great edition of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson and shortly thereafter married Samuel S. Bryan, Jr. She held her post with the Jefferson papers for 13 years and was a major contributor to the first 13 volumes of the series. Then, within a very few years, Mrs. Scheide died, Mina's husband died, the Scheides' son moved his father's library to Princeton and managed to persuade Mina to return to the Scheide Library and to help him continue to build it to even greater eminence. And this post she has held ever since, adding to it a decade of service as managing editor of The Princeton University Library Chronicle.

In the early 1960's Mina Bryan was elected a member of the Hroswitha Club, that eminent group of female bibliophiles which has a record of many years of scholarly accomplishment. When the Grolier Club, the great bastion of masculine bibliophiles, came face to face with American laws of the late twentieth century and had to enroll women, it was lucky to induce Mina Bryan to condescend to be one of the first three females in that company.

Mina will speak to us tonight on "Collectors, Libraries, and 'Friends'." I am delighted to introduce Mina R. Bryan.


The instinct to collect is universal and has been practiced for centuries. Collecting can become an obsession and can lead to dire results but, fortunately, psychopathic collectors are not common . The most gruesome case is that of a Spanish monk in the early part of the nineteenth century, Don Vincente. For many years he had access to the valuable library of a monastery near Tarragona . Always a book lover, the more he handled the monastery's treasures the more attached he became. His chance came in the political upheavals of the 1840's. There was no check on the monastery's collections; Don Vincente disappeared and so did many of the most valuable books. He next appeared as the proprietor of a bookshop in Barcelona. One day there was an auction and a supposedly unique book he had long coveted was to be sold. Unfortunately, there was another bidder whose purse was larger than his and his rival went off with the treasure. A few days later, the successful bidder died in a mysterious fire which destroyed his home. Because Don Vincente had shown his irrational anger at the auction when he lost the book, he immediately came under suspicion and, sure enough, the book was found in his shop. Don Vincente did not deny his guilt -- he merely asked the police to be careful of the book. At the subsequent trial it was proven that 11 earlier victims of mysterious deaths had owned coveted books which later turned up in Don Vincente's possession.

In the course of the trial, Don Vincente's lawyer, in an effort to save his client's life, revealed that, a few days before, a second copy of the book had been discovered in Paris. At this, the prisoner became hysterical and could be heard moaning, "My copy is not unique." When the time came to ascend the scaffold, his last instruction was that his library be kept intact and given to the Barcelona Library. He did direct that the collection be given to a public institution, so I suppose he could be called a benefactor -- however reprehensible!

The average person today takes for granted that universities have libraries and gives little thought to the part that persons who have a passion for collecting have played in founding and furthering our great research libraries. One of the earliest "friends" in the English-speaking world was Sir Thomas Bodley. In the thirteenth century Oxford University had a few books stored in chests in St. Mary's Church. The separate colleges had libraries of manuscripts but there was no central library. In 1439 Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, gave the university 280 books -- all manuscripts, of course, since printing had not been invented. This prompted the trustees to build a room to house a library . However, that room fell into disrepair and the books were either lost or sold for the vellum they contained to be used in bindings. In 1598 Sir Thomas Bodley entered the scene when he wrote to the Trustees of the University:

Where there hath bin heretofore a publike library in Oxford: which you know is apparent, by the rome it self remayning, and by your statute records[,] I will take the charge and cost vpon me, to reduce it again to his former vse: and to make it fitte, and handsome with seates, and shelfes, and Deskes, and all that may be needfull, to stirre vp other mens benevolence, to helpe to furnish it with bookes.

In doing so he displayed the best quality of a true friend -- not only to assist himself but encourage others to be interested. Not only did he give his own books and money and lands for endowment but he succeeded in making an agreement with the Stationer's Company of London to send free of charge one copy of every book printed in London, an arrangement from which Oxford has profited ever since. However, he wasn't a perfect friend. He wanted to run the library according to his own tastes. The statutes required that the librarian be a linguist "not encumbered with marriage" because marriage was too filled with domestic impediments to leave time to perform his duties: Thomas James, the first librarian, from 1600 to 1620, threatened to resign and the rule was relaxed. Letters between Bodley and James reveal that the poor librarian got frequent admonitions and reprimands from Bodley. He criticized his cataloguing, his slowness in answering letters, and even his handwriting. Bodley also censored what books were to be added to the library. He banned almanacs and plays, which would harm the library by the scandal created when it became known that the library contained such "baggage books."

The First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, 1623, was acquired in spite of this restriction but his provision that some books were to be exchanged for better editions was unfortunate. When the Third Folio of 1664 appeared with seven new plays, the First Folio was sold to a bookseller and the new volume was purchased. In 1905 an Oxford undergraduate brought the librarian a book that had been in his family for over 150 years; it still had the distinctive binding made for the Oxford First Folio in 1624. It is now back in the library but it cost the Friends of the Library £3,000 to put it there.

Other British libraries had their beginnings with the gifts of or purchases from great book collectors. One of the great assets of Magdalene College, Cambridge, is the library assembled by Samuel Pepys, who collected his books throughout his lifetime for his own pleasure. His prime motive in willing it to Magdalene was to preserve it for posterity exactly as it was at the time of his death in the exact way he had arranged it. The library was willed to his nephew, who was to add missing volumes, bind up unbound pamphlets, stamp Pepys's arms on the covers of all the books, and carry out final adjustments. The library then was to go to Magdalene, Pepys's own college, to be kept in a separate room called Bibliotheca Pepysiana without addition or subtraction in perpetuity. If these conditions were disregarded, the library was to be forfeited to Trinity College. This restriction is still in effect, so much so that within the last century some change was to be made in the room, but before it was made the proper authorities at Trinity were consulted and gave their approval. Though so static a treatment of a collection cannot be generally recommended, the Pepys library is the only private library of any early period that remains intact today.

The British Museum, or the British Library, as the library part of the museum is now known, was begun and enlarged in a more or less hit-or-miss fashion by the acquisition either by gift or by purchase of the libraries of great collectors from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. One of the most surprising to an American is George III, whom we know only as the demented king who lost the colonies through his stubbornness and stupidity. George III was an avid and intelligent book collector, and his library, known today as the "King's Library," is still one of the great treasures of the British Library in London.

Turning now to the United States, I will read from the 1794 Laws of the College of New Jersey, Chapter V, which is devoted to the library:

Every student shall, at the commencement of each session, pay to the librarian sixty-seven cents, for the use of the library.

The librarian shall attend at the library one day in the week, at noon, during the session, to give out books to all who have a right to apply: He shall enter the names of the persons in a book kept for that purpose, with the number and condition of the volume, by which entry he shall compare it when returned.

He shall keep another book for the purpose of recording all additions made to the library, with the date of their reception, and if they are present, the name and place of abode of the donor; and these books shall be immediately entered in the catalogue.

No one shall keep a book longer than as follows, viz, a folio, six weeks; a quarto, four weeks; an octavo, two weeks, and every other book, one week: He shall not lend it to any other person, and he shall be liable for every injury it receives, while in his possession; if lost, defaced or torn, he shall pay a sum proportionable to the damage incurred, or replace it, at the choice of the faculty. No person, not immediately connected with the college, shall take a book from the library, without depositing with the treasurer or librarian his note for the whole set, which note shall become due immediately after the expiration of the time above specified for the return of the volume.

No book shall be lent to any person who lives more than a mile from the college.

If the trustees or officers of the college, on any occasion, shall desire to consult a book in the library without taking it from the room, it shall be the duty of the librarian to attend them for that purpose.

University and research libraries in America have come a long way since then, and much of their progress may be credited to the Friends of university libraries -- whether organized as a group or as individuals working singly.

But as late as 1853, at the first meeting of the American Library Association, the president remarked that not a single library in America "affords the requisite means for a thorough study of one topic." Within less than a century and a half, this country has come to have some of the finest research libraries in the world. Many of these would not exist if they had not been formed by book collectors who then made their collections public institutions. I will single out only three: the Pierpont Morgan Library, the Henry E. Huntington Library, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which were formed in different ways and for different reasons.

J. Pierpont Morgan, born in 1837, became interested in autographs as a schoolboy. His first purchase was an orange card with President Fillmore's signature. By 1903 his collection of books and autograph manuscripts had outgrown the library in his house. A new separate library was needed and the present structure on East 36th Street was built. Morgan was highly educated and widely traveled and his collecting followed the pattern of the aristocratic European collectors. Shortly after the library was built, on the recommendation of his nephew he engaged a young cataloguer from the Princeton Library, Belle da Costa Greene. Although Miss Greene had definite ideas of her own about acquisitions, Morgan continued to buy books, manuscripts, and art on his own, not always consulting with Miss Greene -- probably to her great annoyance. When he died in 1912, he left his library to his son, J. Pierpont Morgan, Junior, who was also very knowledgeable and, with Miss Greene, added widely to the collections. In 1924 J. P. Morgan, Junior, created the library as a public institution. When J. P. Morgan died in 1943, the purchasing power of the endowments was greatly reduced so that now, like other research and university libraries, the library is greatly dependent upon the gifts and contributions of its fellows, that is, friends of the library, for supplementing its acquisitions of new books and manuscripts.

In 1905 a book, Fads and Fancies of Representative Americans, described Henry E . Huntington as a director of 40 corporations -- including railway, banking, express, land, lumber, coal, iron, copper, and shipbuilding -- a great reader and fun-loving and a great joker, but made no mention of a library. Twenty years later, Huntington was admitted to a Philadelphia hospital for an emergency operation; Lord Duveen, the leading dealer in art, and A. S. W. Rosenbach, the leading dealer in rare books, rushed to the bedside of one of their best clients. Huntington is said to have asked, "Do I remind you of anyone? -- Jesus Christ on the Cross between two thieves." Huntington did not have the education of most of his fellow collectors. His formal education ended at 16. He envied other collectors and rather resented their superior knowledge. He bought on a large scale -- whole libraries at a time for millions of dollars. From 1915 on all purchases were sent to Huntington's house in New York, where a staff of 12, working in a former billiard room converted for the purpose, sorted out duplicates which were sold in a series of auctions. The remainder were indexed and shipped to San Marino to a property of 550 acres where Huntington had a Louis XVI mansion surrounded by a garden of exotic plants and statues. He was stingy with his staff in buying research materials and is said to have required the staff to use the backs of used envelopes for their collation of books. His last care was to plan a mausoleum for himself and his wife on the grounds of the San Marino property where they are buried. He created a lasting monument to himself but he also created one of the great research libraries in the world. The Huntington Library now has a large and active group of "Friends" who arrange benefits to raise funds and act as docents, in addition to their annual contributions.

Henry Clay Folger was probably the most public-spirited "friend of the library" from the beginning. Folger was a typical example of the businessman of an earlier generation who accumulated a fortune, kept his own counsel, and gave his fortune to the public. Not until the president of Amherst College read in the newspapers that Folger in his will had appointed the trustees of Amherst College as administrators of his estate did the college trustees know that they would be responsible for developing a great research institution in Washington. When Folger was in Amherst, he developed a lifelong interest in English literature and especially in Shakespeare. His original intention was to create a research library. He decided on a site near the Library of Congress as the best place for such a center of research. He realized that Shakespeare could not be studied from his works alone so he also gathered books and manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which would throw light on every aspect of the life of a man who greatly influenced English literature. Collecting became the primary interest in his life. With the help of his wife, he read book catalogues, ordered and catalogued books. Once finished, he stored them in warehouses. He acquired a bad name among book collectors as one who acquired books and hid them away. In 1930 he laid the cornerstone for the Folger Shakespeare Library, but he died two weeks later so he never saw the result of his lifelong endeavors. Mrs. Folger survived him by six years so she did see the library in operation and took great interest in it. When she died, she left her residual estate to the trustees of Amherst. The Folgers had no children. Amherst College, which administers the library, continues to search, with the aid of its endowment, for books which add resources to the study of Western culture. The Folger Library also now has an organized group of Friends. Not only can the scholar use the books and manuscripts for research, but the general public can see plays in the theater constructed to reproduce the Globe Theatre, or hear music of the period, and there are now traveling exhibitions which are sent around the country.

Perhaps a few "friends of the library" can assemble and present a collection on a large scale today. Paul Mellon has set up the center for the study of British art at New Haven. But for the rest of us books are too rare and too expensive, and on the part of the university, space to house collections has also become scarce and expensive. The following item appeared in a recent issue of The Antiquarian Bookman:

Buying Power Down

As the cost of journals and magazines spirals upward with each passing year, the capacity of university libraries to add to their book collections decreases. Over the past few years, the actual number of volumes added to the average university library's collection (i.e. rare books and manuscripts) has shrunk each year while the amount spent on books and non-serial publications has increased.

Although the percentage of the average library's budget devoted to acquisitions has appeared to remain the same over recent years, the proportion allotted to the purchase of serials has had to increase sharply, jumping nearly 70 percent since 1976 as compared to an increase in spending for books of only slightly more than 20 percent.

Libraries are more dependent than ever on Friends for acquiring books and manuscripts to supplement their special collections. This need doesn't propose to satisfy the desire to gain distinction or immortality, but it makes possible a noble and lasting contribution to the preservation of our cultural heritage. The cooperation of Friends and librarians can be a mutually rewarding and interesting experience.

In 1973 the trustees of Princeton University awarded Mary Hyde the Donald F. Hyde award (established by the university trustees in memory of her husband) for distinguished accomplishment as a collector and for services to scholarship. In her reply to the citation, she related how Robert Metzdorf aided her and her late husband in the formation of their library, beginning with their acquisition of the R. B. Adam collection, which had been on deposit here under his supervision: "Bob Metzdorf gave us all his notes and his collations of the Johnson books, he taught us how to make catalogue cards, he advised us in planning our library room, he helped unpack and shelve books. He paid us a visit of a week or so every summer to keep us on the right track. His assistance was invaluable." The number of people, of which I am one, who have the same happy memories of Robert Metzdorf's Friendship and help are many.