Americana is a Creed

- by Bruce E. McKinney


To understand the process understand the players

The Clements Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, founded in 1923 at the University of Michigan holds collections of print and manuscript materials on the history of North America and the Caribbean, with particular strengths in 18th and 19th century American history.  It is an important American institution.  They issue books on an irregular basis and I’m lucky to be reading their most recent, Americana is a Creed, a series of excerpts and essays on many of the important librarians, collectors and dealers involved in Americana.  It’s the second volume of two, the first – The Pioneer  Americanists:  Early Collectors, Dealers, and Bibliographers was published in 2017.


The introductory essay to the recent volume is a gem that weaves the complex threads of collecting into a coherent view on the changing times, themes, and personalities.  The individual pieces are similarly illuminating.


The following persons have been nominated for canonization:



Edward Everett Ayer  1841-1927

Wymberley Jones De Renne 1853-1916

Wilberforce Eames 1855-1937

William L. Clements 1861-1934

Henry R. Wagner 1862-1957

Charles E. Goodspeed 1867-1950

George D. Smith 1870-1920

Bruce Cotton 1873-1854

Charles P. Everitt 1873-1951

Arthur Alfonso Schomburg

Harold C. Holmes 1877-1965

Edward Alexander Parsons 1878-1962

Wright Howes 1882-1978

Edward E. Eberstadt 1883-1958

Charles F. Heartman 1883-1953

E. Millicent Sowerby 1883-1977

Thomas W. Streeter 1883-1965

Margaret Bingham Stillwell

Ernest Wessen 1887-1974

Douglas C. McMurtrie 1888-1944

Randolph G. Adams 1892-1951

Michael J. Walsh 1894-1984

Dorothy Porter Wesley 1905-1995

David Magee 1905-1977

David A. Randall 1905-1975

Leona Rostenberg 1908-2005

Madeleine Stern 1912-2007

Charles Hamilton 1913-1996

Marcus A. McCorison 1926-2013

Charles L. Blockson  1933-

Michael Zinman 1938-

John H. Jenkins 1940-1989

William S. Reese 1955-2018


It’s logical, if disappointing, to see Bill Reese on this list.  He belongs, but his death at an early age, injects reality into a list that could otherwise mostly be statues in a museum.  And I’ve written elsewhere of the importance of Wright Howes and Ernest Wessen who bought and sold gems at very reasonable prices.


I can also see places for others who have been omitted. No auction houses?  It’s as if this is a book about the biggest waves in a world that has been transformed by storms, none bigger than Sotheby’s and Christies or persistent than Bonhams and Swann’s.


It’s an interesting group for whom the common denominator is involvement.  To get on that list you needed to be brilliant, well-connected, generous and in few cases, ruthless.  In other words, old books and collectible sundries are simply a particularly beautiful patch on the tapestry of life.


Both volumes are highly recommended.  The first is available online through Oak Knoll Books.  The second volume will probably be offered soon.  And I’ll announce the third volume today, which to make the set complete must tell the stories of the auctions and the contentious battles throughout the 20th century as they shifted from “for the trade” to all with the will, resources and a paddle.