Harry Elkins Widener (1885 – 1912), Harvard class of 1907, formed an extraordinary collection of books, manuscripts and drawings in his short lifetime. Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family whose members collected everything from paintings and tapestries to silver and china, Harry began serious book collecting while an undergraduate at Harvard. Starting with first editions of the authors he loved – Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Makepeace Thackeray – he soon branched out into extra-illustrated and costume books (inspired by his days as a Hasty Pudding Club member), original drawings, and manuscripts.

By age 25, he was well ensconced in the book collecting world of his day, belonging to the Grolier Club and the Bibliophile Society, and in close contact with Philadelphia book dealer Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach and New York book dealer Luther Livingston. By this time, too, he definitely had developed a philosophy of collecting, as he wrote to Livingston on May 6, 1910: “No matter how important a book or ms may be I only want those that interest me.”