Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Huntington to add Charles Dickens' letters to collection

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced today it will add to its Library holdings an extraordinary group of 35 letters written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870). The set of letters is one of four new acquisitions selected by the Library Collectors’ Council at its 13th annual meeting on Jan. 16.

Also selected were A Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or Birds of Paradise, a spectacularly illustrated, hand-colored ornithological book published in 1873; an important group of photographs of Santa Barbara, Calif., by the firm Hayward and Muzzall produced in the late 1800s; and an elaborately illuminated English manuscript made in the 1590s to commemorate the victorious Siege of Calais in 1347.

“The Huntington’s Library Collectors’ Council consists of some of the most devoted and erudite philanthropists and collectors in the region. We’re thrilled that once again they have expanded the Huntington’s holdings both dramatically and wisely,” said Steve Koblik, president of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

David Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington, added, “The Council was formed to augment the collections at the high end, meaning members are asked to purchase materials we otherwise couldn’t afford. A rare group of letters by a canonized English literary figure like Dickens is exactly in that vein; and the other three acquisitions greatly enhance our usefulness as a research library in some of our strongest collection areas.”

Letters by Charles Dickens
The letters by Charles Dickens that will join The Huntington’s holdings were written from about 1838 to 1869 and are addressed to a variety of individuals, including Hablot Knight Browne (Dickens’ best-known illustrator, affectionately called “Phiz”), John Leech (another of Dickens’ illustrators), Robert Lytton (a poet, and son of novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton), Charles Ollier (a publisher of earlier writers, including the poets Keats and Shelley) and Mary Nichols (an American author who was published by Dickens in his weekly periodical, All the Year Round).

The collection was built by a New York rare book and manuscript dealer for his personal collection over a period of 40 years and has not been for sale until now. Only eight of the 35 in the group have been published.

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington, explains, “It is nearly unprecedented to see such an extensive group of Dickens letters available together from a private source. In 30 years as a curator, I have never before seen a collection like this offered.”

The Huntington already holds about a thousand letters by Dickens, as well as other manuscripts relating to his work and 49 original drawings by “Phiz” for Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. Highlights of letters include instructions to “Phiz” regarding the illustrations for that book. Dickens’ writes, “The room is lighted by a skylight (if you show any window at all); of course it is not the show-room described in No. 3, though there may be a cap on a block and a dress on a stand if it would improve the sketch. N.B. Please to take care that Miss Knag is not like Miss La Creevy.”

Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or Birds of Paradise
Also acquired was the large and spectacularly illustrated Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or Birds of Paradise, published by the author, Daniel Giraud Elliot, in 1873. Only 49 copies of the work were produced and sold by subscription during the second half of the 19th century. The book is a large, heavy volume, known as an elephant folio, measuring about 24 inches in height. It consists of 36 hand-colored lithographs of bird species from the family known as the Paradiseidae, found in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Australia. The volume joins The Huntington’s iconic Birds of America, the four-volume set of double-elephant folios by John James Audubon that stand as one of the Library’s most treasured rare books, on exhibit in its main exhibition hall.

Hayward and Muzzall Photographs of Santa Barbara
This rare group of 172 photographs represents the most comprehensive visual record of Santa Barbara’s early years, captured by photographer E. J. Hayward. The collection contains unique and unpublished views of the region, rounding out a relatively sparse early portrait of the region. Interspersed with streetscapes, adobe buildings, early dwellings, Chinese workers, and gardens are scenes of family members, their social gatherings, and the Hayward and Muzzall Studio on State Street. (Hayward joined forces with photographer Henry W. Muzzall in 1875 and established a firm that would become synonymous with early Santa Barbara photography.)

Elizabethan Manuscript Commemorating the Siege of Calais
The “First Calais Roll of Arms” commemorates the Siege of Calais in 1347, considered among the greatest English military victories of the Hundred Years’ War with France. While other copies exist, this particular one is a 16th-century manuscript copy that was one of the most elaborate and carefully planned and likely a luxury item because of its sophisticated design, elegant layout, and beautiful calligraphy. The title page displays a full color painting of the royal arms of Edward III, who was present at the siege. The work consists of 35 pages documenting knights, esquires, mounted archers, and others, and provides a summary of the number of ships and mariners, arranged by home port. In the 19th century, the “Roll” belonged to the Duke of Newcastle, whose arms are embossed in gold on the covers. The volume joins The Huntington’s extensive collection of material on Elizabethan England.

About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be found online at

Visitor information
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