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Sir Louis Sterling and his library

Julia Walworth

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 40, 2005 Sir Louis Sterling and his library* JULIA WALWORTH Sir Louis Sterling (1879-1958) is associated today with the Sterling Library, a rare-book collection housed in an oak-panelled room in the Senate House Library of the University of London. Although his name is preserved by his eponymous collection, Sterling was not one of those collectors who are swallowed up by their collection, dedicating their lives to accumulating and curating. Instead, the development of Sterling's library is best understood within the context of his life as a whole - a life in which rare books played only one part. I shall begin, therefore, with an overview of Sterling's life and career, before turning to a description of his book collec tion - its development, its nature and how it came to the University of London. Sterling's life and career In broad strokes, Sterling's life is a classic rags-to-riches tale tied to the rapid technological developments of the early twentieth century. It is unusual in that, contrary to stereotype, Sterling came from the New World to the Old to seek his fortune. Newspaper accounts published after Sterling had become an established figure, all repeat the same elements of his life: a poor family, work as a newspaper boy on the streets of New York, journey to London in a cattle boat, an exciting and rapid rise in business, honoured in his lifetime in both his hometown and his adopted country.1 In fact, although Sterling came from a humble background, his parents, Russian Jewish immigrants, ensured that their children received the education needed to make their way in the world. Sterling was born on Orchard Street and attended the Henry Street School. According to a newspaper article on the occasion of his knighthood, his brother Nathan became a vice-president of Bloomingdales department store and his sister Mrs Pauline Surrey was a high-school teacher.2 Sterling attended the Hebrew Technical Institute * Paper presented to the Society on 13 May 2004. 1 Obituary, 'Sir Louis Sterling: Industrialist and Philanthropist' The Times 3 June 1958, p. 14. 2 The American Hebrew 28 May 1937, information from a dated, but unpaginated, clipping now in a scrapbook in the University of London, Senate House Library, special collections reference number LS/4/1. 159</page><page sequence="2">Julia Walworth and then worked in import-and-export concerns before his journey to London at the age of twenty-four to try for a job in the developing record ing industry. When Sterling arrived in Britain, one of his few contacts was William Barry Owen, managing director of the Gramophone Company, whom he had met in New York. Through Owen, Sterling was taken on at the Gramophone Company and became fascinated by the business. Accounts of Sterling's early career published in his lifetime or at his death tend to emphasize the contrast between newsboy and industrialist, omitting some of the intermediate stages.3 Sterling himself presents a confident, almost breezy view of his start in the recording world in an interview in The Talking Machine News only a year after his arrival in London: 'I have no tale to tell. I came over here from the States a year ago. I was keenly interested in talking machines over there and had thoroughly studied their possibilities both from a technical and commercial point of view. In the course of doing so I naturally became fairly well-known to the leading members of the trade.'4 Sterling's early years in England reflect both the rapid changes in the recording business of the time and his own ambition and abilities. He was not one of the engineers developing new techniques for recording sound, but his managerial skills and marketing talent helped the infant industry to thrive. In 1903 he worked as a travelling representative for Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd, giving demonstrations of gramophones throughout the British Isles. His knowledge of the tastes and purchasing patterns in different parts of the country proved useful when in the spring of 1904 he became manager of the British Zonophone Company, which produced playing machines and disc records (as opposed to cylinders). Here Sterling introduced changes such as concentrating on adding new recordings of popular pieces (some 700 new recordings in under six months), cutting the backlist and discontinuing the practice of allowing customers to exchange old records for new ones.5 The next twenty years, during which Sterling became one of the men steering the recording industry in Britain, are described in detail in Peter This account is based on W. S. Meadmore, 'Sir Louis Sterling: "A pioneer of a great industry'", The Gramophone 15 (1937-8) 5-7. 'Mr Louis Sterling and the British Zonophone Co.' The Talking Machine News and Cinematograph Chronicle April 1904, pp. 294-5. The Phono Trader and Recorder Sept. 1904; 'Zonophone Machines and Records', Cycle and Motor Trader 14 Oct. 1904. 'Zonophone Talking Machines' The Hardware Trade Journal 30 Sept. 1904, p. 402. Clippings of these articles and others are preserved in the University of London, Senate House Library (hereafter SHL), Louis Sterling Papers, in an album of cuttings relating to Sterling's early career. i6o</page><page sequence="3">Sir Louis Sterling and his library Martland's history of EMI.6 In early 1905 Sterling struck out on his own briefly with the Sterling Record Company, but soon joined forces with Russell Hunting to form the Russell Hunting Record Co. Ltd, of which Sterling was managing director. By 1908 Sterling had formed another company, Rena Manufacturing Co. Ltd. He struck a profitable deal selling the disc records produced by the Columbia Phonograph Company. In 1910 Sterling sold Rena to Columbia and was appointed Columbia's British sales manager. His first contract with them stipulated that he was to receive commission only, a gamble that was to prove successful as he made Columbia into one of the leading British record companies in the space of a few years. Sterling's strategy included the development of record labels aimed at different markets, in particular affordable records of current favorites, combined with extensive advertising. When war broke out in 1914 and the record industry faced a sudden slump, Sterling quickly masterminded the production of patriotic war records, the sale of which was linked to contributions to the Prince of Wales's Fund. He also intro duced original-cast recordings of songs from London shows that were popular both at home and with soldiers at the front. By the end of the war Sterling was managing director of what had by then become the Columbia Graphophone Company Ltd. Sterling's years at Columbia during the 1920s were characterized by a string of successes. He was an astute businessman and acted decisively. Recording techniques changed quickly at this time and, although Sterling did not himself have scientific expertise, he ensured that Columbia stayed competitive by putting resources into research and development and into obtaining information about the latest technical developments. By 1923 the Columbia Company in Britain had become an independent company through a management buy-out, and in 1925 Sterling was a key figure in the dramatic acquisition of its former American parent (Columbia Phonograph). Sterling was made chairman of Columbia's New York board, and it did not take him long to bring the American company back into profit. In the heady market of the 1920s Columbia's stock went from 10s to £15 per share in five years. When markets collapsed in 1929—30, the major shareholder, the bank of J. P. Morgan, steered Columbia into a merger with another giant in the recording industry, the Gramophone Company. Louis Sterling was named managing director of the new company, Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI). Political troubles in Japan and Germany, combined with the growing popularity of radio at home made the 1930s difficult for international 6 P. Martland, Since Records Began: EMI the First Hundred Years, consultant ed. R. Edge (London 1997) 103-48 passim; his article 'Louis Saul Sterling' in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography LII (Oxford 2004) 522-4. i6i</page><page sequence="4">Julia Walworth companies like EMI, although this decade also brought formal recognition of Sterling's achievements. At EMI, Sterling sought to recoup the losses of the Depression by reorganizing record production, marketing combined radio and gramophones and putting money into research development for television. When anti-Jewish measures affected EMI employees in Germany, Sterling and others at EMI worked hard to obtain permission for them to emigrate. Sterling acted as personal guarantor for an unknown number of Jewish refugees to Britain. When in 1937 Sterling was awarded a knighthood in George VI's corona tion honours list (he had taken British citizenship in 1932), the event was widely celebrated in the gramophone and music industry. The guest list for the gala banquet and concert held at the Savoy to honour him reads like a Who's Who of musicians and music industry giants. Those who performed after the dinner included Richard Tauber, Lawrence Tibbett, Sir John Barbirolli and Lauritz Melchior. A scrapbook in which Sterling preserved the hundreds of telegrams and letters received on this occasion reveals not only the expected communications from recording artists and fellow busi nessmen, but good wishes and reminiscences sent by childhood friends and good-humoured missives from members of his family in the United States (three scrapbooks relating to his knighthood were presented to the Sterling Library by Mr George Kent, Lady Sterling's son, after her death).7 In 1939, following internal tensions at EMI, Sterling was forced to resign. He had for some time had other business interests, facilitated by close dealings with the bankers who financed his Columbia and EMI undertakings. In 1935, for instance, Sterling was one of two Englishmen on the first board of Siegmund Warburg's New Trading Company, and he served as a director when the company became the merchant bank S. G. Warburg. On leaving EMI, Sterling served as a director of the music publishers Chapell and Co. and was later managing director and then chair man of A. C. Cosser Ltd., electrical engineers. He stayed active in the busi ness world until shortly before his death. As well as being an energetic and gifted businessman, Louis Sterling was a generous person given to big, but not ostentatious, gestures. He wanted to share his good fortune and occasionally did so in novel ways. On his fiftieth birthday (16 May 1929), he divided £100,000 from his personal fortune among Columbia employees all over the world according to a scale based on seniority, current position and gender that Sterling devised with local managers. He arranged for personally signed letters to accompany cheques that ranged from a few pounds to several thousands: all perma nent staff received at least £5 and those with at least five years' service SHL, LS/4/1-3. IÔ2</page><page sequence="5">Sir Louis Sterling and his library received at least £25 (£15 for women); some senior managers received £4000.8 Sterling may have been an enthusiastic Anglophile, but he shared his wealth in his birthplace too. The award of his knighthood in 1937 was the occasion for the formation of the Sterling Club, an Anglo-American club that organized charitable functions. Sterling was also an active member of the Grand Street Boys' Association, a charitable association of former Lower East Siders established in 1920 to help young people. By his seventy-fifth birthday, on which he gave £200,000 anonymously to a wide variety of charities, Sterling is said to have remarked that his charitable donations to that date amounted to some £1,250,000.9 In 1938 the Sir Louis Sterling Charitable Trust was established to make annual payments to more than 200 charities a year. As Sterling grew older he became more actively involved in Jewish char itable work and was president of the British Committee for Technical Development in Israel. His work for the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, was commemorated years later when the Senate Building, donated through the Friends of the British Technion Society, was dedi cated to Sterling in 1965.10 Sterling enjoyed entertaining and being entertained. He liked prize fights, played poker at the Savage Club and even in old age was a familiar figure at theatrical first nights. He and his wife Cissy (frequently written as 'Cissie', but Sterling referred to her as Cissy in correspondence),11 a widow whom he married in 1919, regularly entertained a wide circle of friends on Sunday evenings at home. Recalling one such dinner, the sound-recording pioneer Fred Gaisberg wrote: 'After the recording we adjourned to the home of Sir Louis and Lady Sterling, whose Sunday suppers had become a regular feature of bohemian London. ... At the Sterlings one always met agreeable colleagues in the theatrical, film and musical worlds. On this occasion Schnabel and Kreisler were soon deeply engrossed in discussing the political situation in Germany and were joined by ex-Mayor [of New York] Jimmy Walker and Lauritz Melchior, greatly to the discomfort of a bridge party in the next room, which included Chaliapin and Gigli.'12 Although Gaisberg's description highlights well-known names, the See typescript notes and correspondence inserted in a pocket in the Scrapbook, SHL, LS/5/2. For the total of charitable giving, see obituary of Sir Louis Sterling in the Jewish Chronicle 6 June 1958, p. 11. 1 I am grateful to Caryn Yaacov, Head of Donor Recognition at the Technion in Haifa, for confirming this for me. E.g. letter to Louis Golding, 1 July 1941, SHL, LS/8/6/7. Fred Gaisberg quoted in William Compton MacKenzie, 'Sir Louis Sterling', The Gramophone XXXVI (1958) 45. The anecdote first appeared in F. W. Gaisberg, Music on Record (London 1946)202-03. 163</page><page sequence="6">Julia Walworth Sterlings also offered hospitality to those, like the writer Louis Golding, who were short on funds and simply needed a place to stay in London.13 Characteristically, when he died, Sterling's will included a number of personal bequests to people such as waiters at restaurants and clubs he frequented. Sterling and his library This picture of Sterling as a businessman and as a gregarious, but not self important, philanthropist helps one understand Sterling the book collector. He loved books but was not a bibliographer. He could afford to spend money on expensive items but did not buy rashly or wildly - as many did in the 1920s. He enjoyed his collection, read the books and shared them with others, yet did not insert bookplates or make any other marks of ownership or annotations in his books. In the end, he gave his library away - but not without thought and planning. The principle sources of information about the formation of the Sterling collection comprise the printed catalogue compiled after the collection had been accepted by the University of London; letters from booksellers that have survived inserted in several volumes; occasional inscriptions in volumes themselves; a typescript list of books in seven ring binders, of which a working copy and final copy survive; and a shorter list of books. The typescript list, which probably dates from about 1947, includes the early and first editions and more valuable books in Sterling's library, arranged alphabetically according to author along with the month and year of purchase and a figure which in most cases is the purchase price but in some may be the estimated value. The manuscript list is similarly arranged but fills only one binder and appears to record purchases made from 1946 onwards. The relative lack of documentation on the growth of the collection must have been remarked by J. H. P. Pafford, University Librarian, to Sterling, since Sterling wrote to Pafford: 'I bought some [books] from Sawyers, many from Robinson, some at auction and some even in New York, and I regret I cannot give you any history of them'.14 A perusal of the typescript lists reveals that most items in the collection were purchased in the 1920s and 30s, with a large number of acquisitions between 1927 and 1937. The purchase of individual high-price items continued into the late 1940s. By 1956, when the library was formally trans 13 Some letters from Golding to Sterling alluding to Sterling's hospitality are housed in SHL, LS/8/6. 14 The Louis Sterling Papers in the SHL comprise LS/i-8, although some items have not yet been assigned reference numbers. Letter of 11 April 1957 from Sterling to Pafford, University of London Archives, UL 4/18/66/1. 164</page><page sequence="7">Sir Louis Sterling and his library ferred to the University of London, it contained more than 4200 printed books and some 80 manuscripts and covered English literature from Chaucer to contemporary first editions, including no works published before 1640. Of the published contemporary descriptions of Sterling's Library, there are three that are especially worth examining because they shed light not only on the formation of the collection itself but on the world of book collecting in which it was formed. In the introduction to the printed catalogue of his library (1954) Sterling himself writes that he had enjoyed reading from the time he was a boy, and relates the occasion of his first antiquarian purchase: 'My first job was that of a commercial traveller. This necessitated my travelling all over the coun try and I often found myself in towns where, because it was early-closing day, it was impossible to do business. Such afternoons were delightful moments of opportunity to the book-loving side of my nature, and I employed them in browsing around the bookstalls and amongst the odd lots of books in second-hand furniture shops. I remember my initiation into first editions. I was attracted by a very ragged set of Dickens's Christmas Books. I expected to get them for very little and was surprised when the dealer said that he must charge as much as 30s because they were "first editions". I bought them with wonderment, decided to explore the mystery further, and thus I became a book-collector.'15 He adds that, 'as my busi ness interests became larger so did my expenditure on books. ... I found myself unable to approve of collecting first editions which I could not read. This meant I had to collect only books in English.'16 This account is similar in tone to the straightforward narrative of his first years in England that Sterling had given to the press some fifty years earlier. Although it is no doubt a nostalgic and simplified reminiscence, Sterling's description emphasizes that he began collecting gradually, by buying what he liked to read, and it highlights Dickens, whose works Sterling collected throughout his life. The set of Dickens's Christmas Books referred to by Sterling are probably not the copies in original cloth bindings that are recorded in the typescript list as having been purchased in 1917, but it is telling that the 1917 purchase is one of the earliest deemed worthy of inclusion in that list. Dickens certainly remained one of Sterling's favourite authors, and works by him constitute the largest number of works by a single author in the collection. Exceptionally, for this collection, he is represented by numerous editions and different issues, such as the five copies of the first edition of A Christmas Carol, each in a different binding. 15 L. Sterling, 'Preface', The Sterling Library: A Catalogue of the Printed Books and Literary Manuscripts (London 1954) vii. 16 Ibid. 165</page><page sequence="8">Julia Walworth Nicholas Nickleby, Edwin Drood, Dombey and Son are held in original parts. The illustrators associated with Dickens were also early favourites: the collection includes sets of separately issued illustrations for Pickwick Papers. (Illustration sets by Thomas Onwhyn, W. Heath and F. W. Pailthorpe were included in the Sterling Library at the time of deposit; other sets have been added subsequently.) Sterling's relatively early purchases also include other volumes illustrated by the Dickens illustrators Hablot Brown and George Cruikshank. These appear to have led to the purchase of extra-illustrated volumes in the years 1918-25. ('Extra-illus trated' books have been defined as 'copies which have had added to them, either by a private owner or professionally, engraved portraits, prints, etc., usually cut out of other books').17 A more extensive description of Sterling's library appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in 1939 in the series 'Bibliographical Notes: Private Libraries'. Written by an anonymous correspondent and based on a visit to Sterling's grand Avenue Road home in London, the article outlines the development of the collector in a way that is not entirely borne out by the recorded dates of purchase, but that instead reflects current views about tasteful book collecting. 'We began with the bound sets of first editions of Hardy, Thackeray, Dickens and others. Friendship and the example of Mr A. Edward Newton and Mr Jerome D. Kern showed Sir Louis the error of these ways and the next step is represented by fine copies, mostly in modern bindings, of the colour plate books. Almost all the best titles are in the library . . . Pierce Egan, Surtees, "Dr Syntax". . . . Perhaps to this period also belong the fine copies, often in modern bindings, of first editions of such landmarks as aGulliver"and "Robinson Crusoe "N8 The article then goes on to describe some of the highlights of the collection in chronological order, beginning with Shakespeare folios and sixteenth-century English Bibles. By mentioning A. Edward Newton and Jerome Kern the author brings in two names from the book-collecting world that would have been known to all readers of the TLS, and not just to cognoscenti. A. Edward Newton was an American collector who specialized in association copies and in the works of Dr Johnson and his contemporaries. More importantly, he was the author of extremely popular jaunty essays about book collecting that voiced confident opinions about the subject.19 Jerome Kern, the lyricist respons ible for such favourites as 'Ol' Man River' and 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes', 17 J. Carter, ABC for Book Collectors 6th ed. (Newcastle, Del. 1992) 92. 18 'Bibliographical Notes. Private Libraries: XV - Sir Louis Sterling. From a special correspon dent' Times Literary Supplement 4 Feb. 1939, p. 80. For a later description of the collection see The Times 9 Oct. 1945, p. 6. 19 Newton's essays regularly appeared in Atlantic Monthly. 166</page><page sequence="9">Sir Louis Sterling and his library knew Sterling through the music-recording world. He was also an enthusi astic collector of early editions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British authors. In book-collecting circles his name is synonymous with the sort of high-profile, high-price celebrity-collecting that took place in the 1920s. The sale of his collection of 1488 books and literary manuscripts over several days in January 1929 created a furore that resulted in record prices (more than $1.7 million in total) that for the most part were not achieved again for decades.20 Both Newton and Kern were personal friends of Sterling's. Although they may not have advised him specifically about collecting, he would certainly have picked up from them, and from booksellers, the notion that by the 1930s most self-respecting collectors aimed to collect books in origi nal or contemporary bindings.21 In an essay in his Amenities of Bookcollecting (1920) Newton is characteristically forthright in his criticism of certain types of collecting: 'Only the very immature book-buyer will deprive himself of the pleasure of "collecting", and buy a complete set of some author he much esteems, in first editions, assembled and bound with out care or thought other than to produce a piece of merchandise and sell it for as much as it will fetch. One other form of book the collector should be warned against - the extra-illustrated volume. The extra-illustration of a favourite author is a tedious and expensive method of wasting money, and mutilating other books the while.'22 What would Sterling have thought when encountering this opinion, having committed both book-collecting 'mistakes' in his first decade of buying? Probably he would not have been bothered, and he at least did not compile his extra-illustrated volumes himself. In fact, as noted earlier, Sterling's records show that the general pattern of his first fifteen years of collecting indicates a shift from works of Dickens to extra-illustrated volumes, rather than from sets and extra-illustrated volumes to individual first editions. A number of the colourplate books, such as those by Pierce Egan and Surtees, were relatively early acquisitions from the early 1920s, while the morocco-bound sets were generally acquired somewhat later, about 1926-30. The chronology presented in the TLS article, however, conforms to the stereotype of the gradual education of a collector. Sterling may indeed by 1939 have felt that a modern-bound first edition was not up to his current standards. Certainly he later (1948) disposed of the modern morocco-bound copy of the first edition of 20 On the Kern sale see T. Spahn, 'Jerome Kern' Dictionary of Literary Biography no. 187, American Book Collectors and Bibliographers 2nd series (Detroit 1997) 185-91; M. J. Bruccoli, 'The Kern Sale', American Book Collector VII (1986) 11-17. 21 J. Carter, Taste and Technique m Book Collecting (London 1977) 29-30. 22 A.E.Newton, The Amenities ofBookcollecting ( Boston 1920)55-6. 167</page><page sequence="10">Julia Walworth Gulliver's Travels mentioned in the TLS article, in favour of another copy in a contemporary calf binding.23 A third assessment of Sterling's collection is presented in a 1954 review by David Holland of the Sterling Library catalogue in the Book Collector. Holland's tone is grudgingly admiring, in distinction to the gushing enthu siasm of the author of the TLS account. He writes: 'It is likely that collec tors will find less to admire in the Sterling Library than will historians and booksellers. . . . The Library is the result of fifty years of ambitious and well-advised collecting. Few collectors starting today, however rich and straightforward in their tastes, would care to tackle virtually the whole range of English Literature and book production. If they did start, they might be less ready to buy books in costly rebindings . . . and they might buy more from the 18th and less from the 19th century; they would find the earlier books hard to get at any price. They would learn that "High Spot" collecting is faintly suspect - and yet, unless you are confident that you can form rather than follow taste, what more logical way of making a collection is there? Price on the whole sorts out merit.'24 ('High Spot' is a book collecting term defined by John Carter thus: 'High-spot collecting is a sort of dictated eclecticism. Somebody or other has listed or selected one partic ular book by an author as his best, or the commentator's favourite, or simply the one thought to be the most esteemed by collectors'.)25 Once again, the uniformly bound sets come in for criticism, but Holland makes some astute comments about the scope of Sterling's collecting. Sterling's approach bears some resemblance, on a much smaller scale, to that of the large collectors of an earlier generation, such as Henry J. Huntington (famous for buying up complete libraries) or his contemporary, the pharmaceuticals millionaire J. K. Lilly Jr (who started with the Grober Club's One Hundred Best Books in English and subsequently filled many similar but longer 'shopping lists'). He may have been influenced by Jerome Kern's example, and he was certainly advised by two major London book sellers, the firms of Charles J. Sawyer and William H. Robinson Ltd. Although the Sterling Library now includes several fine-booksellers' cata logues from the firms of both Robinson and Sawyer, they are unmarked, and more research is needed to match descriptions with particular purchases by Sterling. Lacking specialist bibliographical knowledge himself, Sterling had to trust his booksellers, but he had a businessman's caution about rushing into purchases at any price. Certainly he bought a 23 SHL, LS/1/3, entry under Swift, Gulliver, reads 'exchanged Green Morocco copy for original calf Ist ed. 10/48. Extra cost £125'. 24 D. Holland, review of the Catalogue of the Sterling Library in The Book Collector III (1954) 234-5 25 J. Carter (see n. 21) 117. 168</page><page sequence="11">Sir Louis Sterling and his library great deal in the first half of 1929, but it is interesting that he does not appear to have purchased directly at auction. Although one might pay more by buying from a bookseller rather than the auctioneer, one also avoids emotional and costly purchases. It is interesting to note that the few items in the Sterling Library with a Kern provenance - select items such as Richard Brathwait's Astrea's tears, considered very desirable by collectors (Sterling's copy contains the ownership labels of such reknowned collectors as Henry Huth, Beverley Chew and Jerome Kern) - were acquired several years after the famous sale.26 Although we do not have the exact figures, Sterling certainly would have paid much less than if he had joined the book-mad crowds in 1929. Since Sterling had only the most general collecting plan, he could wait to see what he could afford. His booksellers would make recommendations of items that might appeal. It may have been a bit unfair of Holland to imply that Sterling's collecting concentrated on 'High Spots' but the Sterling Library does have a number of those books considered very desirable by collectors at the turn of the century. A letter from the bookseller Philip Robinson to Sterling reveals how one such 'High-Spot' purchase came about and also illuminates the relationship between Robinson and his client. On 17 June 1941, Robinson wrote to Sterling: 'I have just purchased a "high-spot" at so reasonable a price that I offer it to you first'. He goes on to relate that a copy of Fitzgerald's 1859 Omar Khayyam did not reach its reserve at auction. This book was desirable for collectors because of its scarcity, especially in its original binding. At the auction in question Robinson had been one of the under-bidders. He was then approached at his shop by the auctioneer's clerk who indicated that the owner would be willing to accept £225 for the book. Robinson made a counter-offer of £160, 'meaning it to be a basis for negotiation. I said I must have a decision this morning and that the offer was subject to them not mentioning the matter to anyone else'. To his surprise his offer was accepted (one can only conjecture at the owner's need for cash). Robinson continues, 'I offer it to you at 10% on this figure, viz £176 nett although the official price of this copy in all the records will be £260'. He explains that another copy of the same book had sold for £2000 in 1930 and how even a rebacked copy sold for £300. 'If you do not have a copy of this book I think this is really an opportunity. I need not say that in your case [added in superscript in pen] the question of how or when you pay would not be a consideration to us.'27 26 R. Braithwait, Astrea's Tears: An Elegie upon the Death ofthat reverence, learned and honest judge, Sir Richard Hutton . . . (London 1641). Sterling's copy is now SHL shelfmark [S.L.] I [Brathwait - 1641]. 27 Letter from Philip Robinson to Sterling, 17 June 1941, previously inserted in The Rubdiyat of Omar Khayyam, the astronomer-poet of Persia, translated in English verse [by Edward Fitzgerald] 169</page><page sequence="12">Julia Walworth Sterling achieved his aim of collecting an exceptional library of important English books. The earliest item in the collection is a manuscript of the C version of Piers Plowman from the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Caxton is represented by several works. Sixteenth-century works include Gower's Confessio amantis (1554) in a contemporary binding, Gavin Douglas's English translation of theAeneid (1553) and the 1532 and 1551 editions of Chaucer's works. Sterling also owned a number of major editions of the Bible, including a Nuremberg Bible (1477), a first edition of Luther's New Testament (1522), the Coverdale Bible of 1535 and both the He and She editions of the 1611 Authorised Version. A set of Shakespeare folios was acquired in 1935 and these were later joined by three quartos, Pericles (1609), the Jaggard-Pavier King Lear {1619) and Othello (1630). There are also first editions of Shakespearean source books and seventeenth-century accounts of travels and histories. Most of the canonical authors from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries are included in the collection, including some with notable provenance or inscriptions. A copy of George Herbert's The Temple (1633) is in an early binding that may have been produced by a member of the Community of Little Gidding. Wycherly's Miscellany Poems (1704) is a presentation copy from the author. Later asso ciation copies include a copy of Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning with marginal pencil annotations by Thomas Carlyle, and the copy of Wilde's Salomé inscribed to Aubrey Beardsley, 'For Aubrey: For The only artist, who, besides myself knows what the dance of the seven veils is .. .' There are manuscripts in Byron's hand of Cantos 3,4, 10, 11, 12 and 17 of Don Juan, as well as a fair copy of Canto 3 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage written out by Mary Godwin with corrections by Byron. Walter Scott is represented by several manuscripts, mostly of verse, and among the Tennyson manuscripts is a copy of several hundred pages from his Works of 1884 with the poet's extensive comments and corrections on interleaved sheets. With Sterling's musical connections one might perhaps have expected musical manuscripts to figure in his collection, but only two are described in the printed catalogue, a manuscript copy of Donizetti's opera Gabriella di Vergy and nine leaves of studies by Mozart. The latter were sold during Sterling's lifetime and appear unfortunately to have been dispersed.28 (London: B. Quaritch, 1859), SHL shelfmark [S.L.] I [Fitzgerald - 1859]. The letter is now SHL LS/7/26. The Fitzgerald was lot 542 at Sotheby's 11 June 1941, and the seller was Richard Warwick Bond (1857-1943), Emeritus Professor of English Language and Literature at University College, Nottingham. Sold Sotheby's 11 Dec. 1957. The University of London Archives include copies of correspon dence from the Library attempting unsuccessfully to trace the whereabouts of the Mozart manuscript (former Library Office donation files). 170</page><page sequence="13">Sir Louis Sterling and his library pM5,-c*: «» Plate i The library in Sir Louis Sterling's home at 7 Avenue Road, Hampstead, photographed shortly before the books were transferred to the Senate House Library. Photograph from album LS/3/4 reproduced courtesy of the Senate House Library, University of London. I7I</page><page sequence="14">Julia Walworth While Sterling did not collect Judaica in a major way, he did acquire several modern manuscripts by Jewish writers whom he knew, such as Louis Golding and Simon Blumenfeld. Of particular interest were several letters between Dickens and Mrs Eliza Davis on the subject of the portrayal of Jews in Dickens's novels. Mrs Davis criticizes the character of Fagin in Oliver Twist, but was happier with Riah in Our Mutual Friend. The corre spondence is described in the 1936 catalogue of the Sawyer collection of Dickens and was bequeathed by Sterling to the Jewish Historical Society.29 Once Sterling began collecting in earnest, in the second half of the 1920s, he acquired items from all periods, including twentieth-century first editions and private-press publications. Among the private presses repre sented are a complete set of Kelmscott editions (acquired almost entirely in March 1929) and numerous Ashendene, Doves and Golden Cockerel works. The nineteenth-century illustrated and extra-illustrated books have already been mentioned, but more contemporary artists such as Eric Gill and Rockwell Kent are also present. Another side to Sterling as collector and benefactor is revealed by the twentieth-century manuscripts in the collection. At the same time that he was buying expensive early books from Charles Sawyer in Grafton Street, Sterling was also in touch with the bookseller, printer and radical Charles Lahr, who ran the Progressive Bookshop in Red Lion Street in Holborn.30 Lahr aided struggling young anti-establishment writers of the 1920s and 30s, among them T. F. Powys, Rhys Davies, H. E. Bates, James Hanley and Liam O'Flaherty, and provided them with food and with lodging on the floor of his shop or with his family. Manuscripts by all these writers were acquired by Sterling.31 Since Lahr was himself frequently in financial diffi culties, his assistance to penniless writers often took the form of finding buyers for their manuscripts, and Louis Sterling was one of several purchasers. Existing correspondence does not reveal how and when Sterling met Lahr, but they shared a love of books and Sterling, though no radical, was inclined to support socialist ideals. Between 1930 and 1934 Sterling bought contemporary literary manuscripts through Lahr on a fairly regular basis. On 27 March 1931, for instance, H. E. Bates wrote to Lahr, 'I am hoping very much that Sterling will buy a MS or two. I have just remembered that I didn't do an inscription for him in the novel. If its A Dickens Library: Exhibition Catalogue of the Sawyer Collection of the Works of Charles Dickens (exhibited at Charles J. Sawyer, 27 March-4 April 1936) (privately printed 1936). One can assume Sterling acquired the manuscripts from Sawyer. They are now in the Special Collections department of University College London. See D. Goodway, 'Charles Lahr: Anarchist, Bookseller, Publisher' London Magazine (June/July 1977) 46-55. The Sterling Library: A Catalogue (see n. 15) 552-62 passim. 172</page><page sequence="15">Sir Louis Sterling and his library [mV] urgent will you send a copy? Don't accept less than £40 for the MS without writing me will you?'32 Bates then wrote directly to Sterling, 'I hear from Lahr that you are very interested in buying modern manuscripts and he has suggested that you might care [to] buy one or two of my own. My manuscripts have always been a good deal in demand ... I have taken Lahr's advice about the fairest market prices for these manuscripts and he suggests £60 for Catherine Foster and £75 for Charlotte's Row. ... I would take £125 for the two novels together if you purchased both.'33 Sterling did buy both. Bates was not altogether exaggerating when he wrote that his manuscripts were in demand, for already in 1932 he was included in a guide to collecting first editions.34 There can be no doubt that Sterling knew that these manuscript purchases were frequently a form of financial assistance. James Hanley's letters are characteristically blunt. Hanley's letter to Lahr of 10 June 1931, 'Do you think that chap will see you this week? I'm honestly stuck for money', led to a quick response. On 23 June Hanley wrote to Sterling: 'I have to acknowledge with many thanks your cheque for £30 which is very acceptable indeed'.35 Lahr himself benefited from Sterling's generosity. It is no coincidence that Sterling purchased correspondence between Lahr and some of his young authors when the Lahr family badly needed money after Charles had been convicted of receiving stolen goods. It was a sound purchase and Sterling certainly would have given a fair price. After Sterling's death Bates wrote of him, 'He was passionately - and often compassionately - interested in very young, unknown and struggling writ ers, many of whom can thank Louis Sterling for stopping up a gap to keep an economic wind away'.36 Having decided to form a broad collection, Sterling at first thought of donating it to the British Museum.37 It is characteristic that when Sterling approached the University of London in 1944 about donating his collection to the University Library he did so anonymously.38 Both the popular novel ist Max Pemberton and the physicist Professor Edward Neville da Costa Andrade are said to have influenced Sterling's decision to choose the SHL, SL V36 (i) 27 March 1931. SHL, SL V104/1 (i) 11 April 193 t . J. Gawsworth, Ten Contemporaries: Notes toward their Definitive Bibliography 2nd series (London 1933) 19-34. SHL, SL V 36 (xiv) folio, Hanley correspondence. H. E. Bates, 'A Great Patron of Literature' John O'London's Weekly 10 Sept. 1954, p. 903. TLS 4 Feb. 1939. University of London Court Minutes CMM 168-9, Dec- r944&gt; recorded in the Court Committee paper, 'University of London, The Court. Committee to Consider the Bequest by Sir Louis Sterling. Wednesday 28 June 1954'. Copy in University of London Archives, UL 4/18/66/3. 173</page><page sequence="16">Julia Walworth University of London. The identity of the mystery benefactor was made known in 1945, and in 1947 the University acknowledged Sterling's generosity by the bestowal of an honorary doctorate. Like many major donations, the acquisition of the Sterling gift was not without its ups and downs. One of the problems facing the University Library was where to put such a large collection. Sterling was inspired with the idea that his library would constitute the foundation on which a larger rare-book collection could be built. He assumed that it would be housed in a sizeable rare-books reading room. The collection was not transferred to the University immediately, however. Sterling continued to collect, with the new Sterling Library in mind. The most remarkable addition during this period was probably the set of sixteen of the portraits of English writers originally commissioned by Philip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield (died 1733) for the library at Chesterfield House.39 Given competing claims for the limited space in the Senate House build ing, it is hardly surprising that there should be some discrepancy between what Sterling was imagining as the setting for his library and what the University felt able to provide. Things came to a head and almost stalled in 1952. Sterling wrote: 'To be quite frank, I am very disappointed. I pictured to myself the wonderful room which would house my books and, naturally, when I bought the Chesterfield collection of pictures, I had this in mind .... For your information, ever since I arranged for the University to have my Library, I have expended more than five figures in pounds for additional books to make the Library more important.' And he concluded: 'I enclose a brochure from the Harvard Library Bulletin regarding the William King Richardson Library, which will indicate to some extent how American Universities treat donations of that nature'.40 It is understandable perhaps that the vice-chancellor, the historian Hugh Hale Bellot, did not receive this pointed suggestion well and wrote to the chairman of the University Court asking him to consider 'whether we ought to allow the plan of the Library [i.e., University Library] to be shaped by the munificence of benefactors.... I am doubtful whether an extensive rare book collection is proper to the Library at all.'41 The University Librarian, the diplomatic and scholarly 'Jack' Pafford,42 39 D. Piper, 'The Chesterfield House Library Portraits' in R. Welleck and A. Ribeiro (eds) Evidence tn Literary Scholarship: Essays in Memory of James Marshall Oshorn (Oxford 1979) 179-95 40 Letter from L. Sterling to Hugh Hale Bellot of 27 March 1952, extract printed in the Court Committee Paper regarding the Sterling bequest (see n. 38). 41 Letter from Hale Bellot to N. B. [Sir Norman Birkett] of 20 Nov. 1952, quoted in Court Committee Paper regarding the Sterling bequest (see n. 38). 42 John Henry Pyle Pafford (1900-96), Goldsmiths' Librarian, University of London 1945-67. 174</page><page sequence="17">Sir Louis Sterling and his library and others were fortunately able to smooth things over. A special room was refurbished (at Sterling's expense), and though not quite so grand a room as Sterling may have envisaged, he was pleased with the results. Sterling was enthusiastic about the cataloguing of the collection, which was carried out by library staff working at the Sterling home under the general direction of the bibliographer John Hayward. On 30 October 1956 the Sterling collec tion was in place in the University Library, and the Sterling Library was formally opened by the Queen Mother in her capacity as Chancellor of the University. Only a few items in the printed catalogue did not come to the University Library. In particular, it was Sterling's wish that several manuscripts by Jewish authors or relating to Judaism go to the Jewish Historical Society. They are now cared for and made available to researchers in the Special Collections department of University College London. Sterling's intention that his library would form the core of an even larger collection of rare books at the University Library has been fulfilled, and it is typical that he himself helped ensure that the collection would grow by providing an endowment for future additions. About the decision to donate his library Sterling wrote: 'I felt that the great city of London, to which I was inspired to emigrate from America a half-century before, had been good to me; and I hope that the gift of my library may be some acknowl edgement of what London has given me.'43 Preface, The Sterling Library: A Catalogue (see n. 15) viii. 175</page></plain_text>