In our first “Historical Auctions” article about the Murphy sale, this author said that:
[Starting in the nineteenth century] ...books were the talisman of literacy that was for the first time approaching “universal” status. Into this golden age of book collecting many of America’s best, brightest and ambitious pursued the collecting of books to complete their journeys from the nascent industrial America to extraordinary wealth and attainment in a single lifetime. Henry C. Murphy [the collector whose collection was the subject of the previous “Historical Auctions” article] was one of these men.
To this, I would add, unhesitatingly: H. Bradley Martin was one of these men, as well.
H. Bradley Martin, a grandson of Henry Phillips (one of Andrew Carnegie’s partners) was a man of great refinement who appreciated the finer things in life, foremost amongst them rare books and manuscripts, and whose independently wealthy lifestyle (he was an heir to a steel fortune) afforded him the means to pursue his passion for this world of antiquarian books and manuscripts. Martin was born in 1906 and died in 1988 at the age of 82. He was, according to John Marion, “one of the preeminent collectors of the 20th century, whose scholarship, taste and erudition have been admired by book collectors around the world.” [From a Sotheby’s New York press release, c. 1988.] “He [Martin]…followed in the tradition of such collectors as J. Pierpont Morgan, Henry E. Huntington, and Robert Hoe, and the diversity of his interests [was] reflected in the Library’s several extraordinary collections, each of which [was] so strong that it independently constitute[ed] a collection of enviable proportions.” [ibid.]
What the Sotheby’s press release refers to here is the phenomenal range of strong sub-collections within Martin’s massive overall collection, which was sold off in 9 distinct parts over the period of a year. Not only did Martin possess one of the finest Ornithological collections in private hands; he also owned superb and comprehensive collections of American, English, and French literature; Americana; Children’s Books; Illuminated Manuscripts; and Non-Ornithological Natural History, Science, and Early Printed Books. [Editor’s Note: the Americana part of the H. Bradley Martin sale, consisting of 48 lots, is available through the Æ Database by typing in “HBradleyMartin” in the Source Field. The vast majority of the Martin Americana records in the Æ Database are illustrated, adding a nice dimensionality and utility to them. Further, the remaining parts of the H. Bradley Martin sale will go into the Æ Database shortly.] The fact that continues to astound is that each of the distinct 9 parts of the H. Bradley Martin sale was so strong, and so full of items of both such significance and such rarity, that to even accumulate one of these collections in a lifetime would have been quite an achievement. The fact that Martin assembled 9 of these collections, virtually on his own, boggles the mind.