Harry Elkins Widener Collection


Overview

For his second bookplate, Widener
commissioned a design from the English
illustrator Walter Crane (1845-1915) in
1908 for 25 guineas.  Engraved by J.A.J
Wilcox (b. 1835), this bookplate graces
all the volumes in the Harry Elkins Widener
Collection. The original Wilcox engraving 
of Crane's design (pictured above) is
preserved in the collection, HEW 2.2.15 F.

Harry Elkins Widener (1885-1912), Harvard Class of 1907, formed an extraordinary collection of books, manuscripts, and drawings during his short lifetime. His original library, collected prior to his death on the Titanic in 1912, consists of approximately 3,300 volumes housed in the Memorial Rooms of Widener Library.

Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family whose members collected everything from paintings and tapestries to silver and china, Widener began serious book collecting while an undergraduate at Harvard. Starting with first editions of the authors and artists he loved best, especially Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and George, Isaac, and Robert Cruikshank, he soon branched out to include other literary notables like William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, William Shakespeare, and William Blake as well as extra-illustrated and costume books (inspired by his days as a Hasty Pudding Club member), original drawings, and manuscripts.

By age 25, Widener was ensconced in the book collecting world of his day, belonging to the Grolier Club and the Bibliophile Society, and in close contact with Philadelphia bookseller Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach and New York bookseller Luther Livingston.  He expressed his philosophy of collecting, in a letter to  Livingston in May of 1910: “No matter how important a book or ms may be I only want those which interest me.”

The collection, given to Harvard by Widener’s mother, Mrs. Eleanor Elkins Widener Rice, also contains a few notable items added by his family, including one of the few surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible, which was added to the collection in 1944 by Mr. George D. Widener on behalf of his sister, Mrs. Widener Dixon, and himself.

  • E-mail the Curator of the Harry Elkins Widener collection for information about the collections, permissions, and programs.
  • Use of the collection is managed by Houghton Library.  For information please e-mail the Reference Desk.

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History

The history of the collection is documented in a permanent exhibition on display in the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Rooms of Widener Library.

(Hours). Widener Library is open to Harvard ID holders only.

The exhibition, History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Collection, is also available online.

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Access

Access to materials in the collection is provided through the Reading Room at Houghton Library. 

All materials are cataloged in the HOLLIS catalog. To see a complete list of items in the collection, select “Expanded Search” in HOLLIS.  In the “Select Keywords From” pull-down box, select “Other call number” then enter “HEW” (without the quotation marks).

The Memorial Rooms can be viewed by Harvard ID holders and their guests only.

To contact the curator, Rachel Howarth, e-mail rhowarth@fas.harvard.edu.

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Further Reading

Battles, Matthew. Widener: Biography of a Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Library, 2004)

Morris, Leslie. “Harry Elkins Widener and A.S.W. Rosenbach: Of Books and Friendship.”  Harvard Library Bulletin New Series, vol. 6 no. 4, (Winter 1995): pp.7-28.

Rosenbach, A.S.W. A Catalogue of the Books and Manuscripts of Harry Elkins Widener, 2v. (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1918)

--, A Catalogue of the Works Illustrated by George Cruikshank and Isaac and Robert Cruikshank in the library of Harry Elkins Widener (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1918)

--, A Catalogue of the Writings of Charles Dickens in the Library of Harry Elkins Widener. (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1918)

--, A Catalogue of the Books and Manuscripts of Robert Louis Stevenson  in the Library of the Late Harry Elkins Widener: with a memoir (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1918)

Widener, H.E.  A Catalogue of Some of the More Important Books, Manuscripts and Drawings in the Library of Harry Elkins Widener (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1910)

Winship, George Parker. “The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library: The Widener Collection of Books.” Harvard Alumni Bulletin 17 (16 June 1915), pp. 668-670.

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