Collecting History

In the beginning William Andrews Clark’s interest lay in the first editions of books that he had read and enjoyed, but he soon became convinced that he should formulate some more or less definite plan for the scope of his collecting. He decided to concentrate on English literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although he did not confine his acquisitions to that period. Works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and many of their contemporaries, also Scott, Dickens, Wilde, and others—together with a small group of American authors—were included in the collection. One of the outstanding features of the original Library was the collection of the works of John Dryden.

As agent to represent him at auctions and to obtain desired items, Clark gave commissions to George D. Smith, the book dealer. After Smith’s death, Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach and Maggs Brothers brought to Clark’s attention most of the books that became important acquisitions in the Library, and they represented him at auction sales in New York and London. Through George Millard of Pasadena he became interested in modern fine printing and eventually acquired a nearly complete collection of the books printed by the Kelmscott and the Doves presses.

Only twice did Clark buy collections en bloc: a group of printed books, autograph letters, and manuscripts by or relating to Oscar Wilde and to his writings; and a selection of books, pamphlets, and manuscripts on Montana and the Pacific Northwest. During the last ten years of his life Clark passed part of the year in Paris, where he had an apartment. Through the bibliophile Seymour de Ricci, Clark acquired a collection of French books, including many valuable editions of Ronsard, Molière, Corneille, Racine, and other authors.

When the Library passed to the administration of UCLA in 1934, it contained approximately 18,000 volumes. By 1945 that number had doubled. Today the Clark’s holdings stand at over 130,000 printed books, pamphlets, broadsides, maps, and the like; 530 bound manuscripts from the early-modern era; more than 1,100 linear feet of personal papers and business records; and approximately 400 linear feet of institutional archives.