Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2007 Issue

Herschel V. Jones: Documented Obsession

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Herschel V. Jones, exceptional collector


By Bruce McKinney

Serious collectors of the century past seemed to live on a scale rarely approached today. Collecting books was one of their pursuits although often not their only one. Collections were extensive and often quickly assembled. One of these collectors, Herschel V [espasia]. Jones, has left three volumes that constitute a history of his collection of American material. The first two, Adventures in Americana, were published in 1928 and the third volume, Americana Collection of Herschel V. Jones, A Check-List [1473-1926] compiled by Wilberforce Eames and completed by Dr. Victor Hugo Paltsits, in 1938. The first two volumes, comprising 300 illustrated descriptions, have been included in the AED for four years. This month we add the third volume. It is illuminating.

Mr. Jones was an upstate New York man of the Delaware County variety. This was a rural area that in the 19th century bred and nurtured ambition that converted wealth into books, some of them cooked. Zadock Pratt, America's leading tanner and a committed book collector, in the mid 19th century, rose to prominence nearby as did Jay Gould who preferred to skin investors. Mr. Jones' interest in books early on exceeded the nine volumes his family owned and he joined a subscription library to scratch his literary itch. At 18 he purchased the Jefferson Courier, a local weekly, and continued his education. In 1885 he moved to the Midwest, joined the Minneapolis Journal and in 1906 bought it. Once wealthy, to the delight of booksellers and auction houses over the final twenty-five years of his life, H. V. Jones become an extraordinary collector for whom the only balm that even temporarily staunched his collecting urge was a literary acquisition and the benefits only temporary. Another and then another were always needed. Mr. Jones was an enthusiast who collected with gusto and dispatched his accumulations with regularity to the auction block. Between 1906 and 1923, there were six single owner auction sales of his material. In 1906 he sent 632 lots to Merwin's of what now might be called his first collection. In 1916 he arranged a second sale only then embarking on what Donald Dickinson has described as his collecting in earnest. By the early 1920's he moved on to Americana. The outcome was a marvelous collection and his three Adventures in Americana volumes that memorialize it.

The third volume is particularly interesting for the extensive reference key provided. The documented collection includes 1,746 entries and footnoted references to fully 168 mainly bibliographic sources. The extent of the detail is unusual and provides a roadmap to the resources employed in identifying, acquiring and documenting items. Most collections are a wall of titles and boilerplate descriptions. This extensive source documentation suggests Mr. Jones was not only wealthy, he was very serious.

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