Main content

The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies Online Lecture Series

American Collectors and the British Market for Rare Books c. 1890-1939: Two Perspectives

Laura Cleaver and Danielle Magnusson, Institute for English Studies, University of London
Punch cartoon showing Uncle Sam standing next to a gravestone with British cultural treasures under his arm as ghost of William Shakespeare looks on. Uncle Sam says, "Now, that's real disappointing. I had my heart set on that skeleton." Shakespeare replies, "But all the same I should feel more comfortable if it was insured."
Cartoon from the British magazine Punch, May 24, 1922.
Photos of the presenters.
Laura Cleaver (left) and Danielle Magnussen (right)

Friday, June 25, 2021, 1:00 -2:15pm EDT (via Zoom)

The early twentieth century has been characterized as a golden age of American book collecting. Many of those books were bought in Britain, where voracious American appetites for rare books and manuscripts became a popular stereotype, often accompanied by hand-wringing about the impact on British cultural heritage. This lecture aims to go beyond these stereotypes to explore what American collectors thought they were doing as well as how their collecting was reported in the press, and why, despite occasional public protests, the British did nothing to try to prevent books and manuscripts going to America. 

A recording of the lecture is available via this link.

More information about the SIMS Online Lecture Series can be found here.


Laura Cleaver is a Senior Lecturer in Manuscript Studies at the Institute of English Studies in the School of Advanced Studies at the University of London. Her research concentrates on medieval manuscripts, encompassing their production, circulation, and reception. She currently leads the ERC-funded project CULTIVATE MSS to assess the significance of the trade in medieval manuscripts for the development of ideas about the nature and value of European culture in the early twentieth century.

Danielle Magnusson is a post-doctoral fellow for the CULTIVATE MSS project. After completing her doctorate at the University of Washington in English Literature and Textual Studies, she has lectured and taught at the School of English at Trinity College Dublin. Her research within CULTIVATE MSS centers on the network of collectors, dealers, and scholars that contributed to the golden age of American book collecting (1895-1930).

Related resources