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The Collation

Letter Scraps

Yes, indeed. As several readers astutely figured out, this scrap of paper most likely bears the tail-end of the phrase “Sotheby sale.”


As for why it’s in our collection? Well, part of that answer comes with one more piece of information: the handwriting is that of Henry Folger.

Several weeks ago, Meaghan wrote about her search for Percy Fitzgerald’s copy of Love’s Sacrifice, and how that led her to a sale catalog from our collection. What didn’t get mentioned in that post was that within that sale catalog, we found a handful of scraps of papers, folded and torn as one might do with a draft no longer needed.

Scraps of paper, found tucked into the Percy Fitzgerald library sale catalog.

Scraps of paper, found tucked into the Percy Fitzgerald library sale catalog.

So of course we started playing jigsaw puzzle.

It was pretty easy to find pieces that went together (excuse the book snakes: as you can see, some of the pieces were folded in half, and it was easier to show how they fit together when they were held flat!).

two scraps of paper that fit together, held down by a book snake

Our mystery piece with its adjoining edge piece.

several pieces of paper that fit together to form the lower edge

Pieces that form most of the lower edge of the paper. “F Wheeler London” and part of Mr. Folger’s signature are clear.

two scraps of paper with Mr Folger's letter-head

Henry Folger’s letterhead

scraps of paper arranged in their logical places

All (?) together now!

Although we only have half (at most!) of the original letter, we can draw a surprising amount of information from it. It was written on Henry Folger’s standard letterhead, and was addressed to F. Wheeler of London. Wheeler was a bookseller with J Pearson & Co. of London, who spent decades doing business with the Folgers. Our archives are full of folders containing correspondence between Folger and Wheeler.

Did this unsent letter, then, have something to do with the sale catalog in which it was found?

Henry Folger certainly purchased a number of items from the Percy Fitzgerald sale on June 14, 1907, including, most notably, one of his First Folios (STC 22273 Fo.1 no.32). He nearly always used agents to do his purchasing, particularly for sales held in London, so it was certainly possible that he had corresponded with Wheeler on this matter. However, I searched our files of Pearson & Co. correspondence, and while Folger and Wheeler did exchange letters in the summer of 1907, I was surprised that nothing turned up regarding the Fitzgerald sale.

However, there is usually more than one way to find an answer around here. I knew that Emily Folger nearly always created hand written cards for each item they purchased, and she often noted when and through whom the sale was made. So I raided the card drawers for the cards of three books I knew had been purchased in that sale: the aforementioned Folio, Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (STC 15090), and George Chapman’s Humorous day’s mirth (STC 4987 copy 1).

handwritten cards with bibliographic information

Emily Folger’s cards for the First Folio, Spanish Tragedy, and Humorous day’s mirth, all purchased from the Fitzgerald sale

But unfortunately, these cards did not provide me with any new information. The line regarding acquisition on all three of them simply gave the lot number and “Fitzgerald Library. Sotheby Sale. June 14, 1907.” It was not the “Bought of…” phrase I had been hoping to find.

Emily's card for the First Folio purchased from the Fitzgerald sale

Detail from Emily Folger’s card for the First Folio purchased from the Fitzgerald sale

So, much like the scraps of paper from within the sale catalog, I had enough information to make some guesses, but not enough to draw any substantive conclusions: I knew the Folgers had purchased items from the Percy Fitzgerald library sale on June 14, 1907. I knew that Folger had been in correspondence with Wheeler in the summer of 1907 regarding other purchases. I knew Henry Folger had started to write to Wheeler around that same time (the room number on the letterhead in the scraps matches up with Folger’s room number around 1907). But was this never-finished letter one regarding the Fitzgerald sale? I resigned myself to never knowing for certain.

But then luck, the fickle patron of researchers everywhere, stepped in. I happened to be going through another Folger correspondence file, for an entirely different question, and came upon the answer to the Fitzgerald sale question.

In the end, it turns out that Henry Folger did not go through Pearson & Co. for the Fitzgerald sale in June of 1907. Instead, he used Henry Sotheran, as shown by the letter from Sotheran, below. The letter, which must have been written immediately following the sale, included a list of lots bidded on and won.

Henry Sotheran's letter of June 14,1907 to Henry Folger, discussing the results of the Fitzgerald sale.

Henry Sotheran’s letter of June 14,1907 to Henry Folger, discussing the results of the Fitzgerald sale.

It is not particularly surprising that Folger went through Sotheran for this sale—Sotheran was Folger’s main London agent and handled the bulk of his UK and European transactions.

But it does leave us with one remaining mystery: what was Folger writing to Wheeler about, and why was it torn up and left in a (presumably unrelated) sale catalog? We’ll probably never know the answer to that, but I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for the rest of that letter!

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