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A. Edward Newton collection


Held at: Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department [Contact Us]Philadelphia, PA, 19103

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Alfred Edward Newton, one of the most prominent book collectors in the Philadelphia region, was born in Philadelphia on August 26, 1864. His formal education was limited, but an interest in books inspired his first collecting efforts in the 1880s. His early working life was haphazard: he began working as a grocery stock boy when he was still in his early teens, spent a few years as a bookstore clerk unwilling to sell books, tried and disliked banking, and eventually joined the Cutter Electrical and Manufacturing Company in 1895. Five years later, he bought it and became president, and remained with the company until his retirement in 1932.

His interests, however, lay almost entirely in the realm of book collecting – he claimed nine-tenths of his energies were devoted to his library. He married Babette Edelheim, daughter of fellow collector Carl Edelheim, in 1890, and socially moved in a circle of fellow collectors, including Moncure Biddle, William Elkins, and Christopher Morley. His first book, The Amenities of Book-Collecting, was published by The Atlantic in 1918. It was an enormous success in the circle of bibliophiles throughout England and America, and led Newton to a successful writing and speaking career. Later books followed on similar themes, including 1921’s A Magnificent Farce and 1928’s This Book-Collecting Game. He primarily collected British literature, and was particularly drawn to Dickens, Trollope, and Samuel Johnson.

Newton and his family lived at their estate, “Oak Knoll,” in Daylesford, Pennsylvania. Oak Knoll Books and Press, a printing and publishing company (founded in 1976 and located in Delaware) was named after Newton’s estate, the company’s founder being inspired to start the company by some of Newton’s writings on book collecting. Although Newton is not connected to Oak Knoll Press, he did do some printing at home, producing Christmas keepsake pamphlets on a variety of subjects for a substantial list of friends and colleagues for thirty-three consecutive years. After a lingering illness, Newton died in 1940, described by the Library of Congress as “the most famous and influential of American book collectors.” His remarkable collection of rare books was auctioned off by Parke-Bernet in 1941, with his personal papers and his published writings being donated to the Free Library by his son, E. Swift Newton, in 1954.


Free Library of Philadelphia. "Remarks Made by E. Swift Newton on the Occasion of His Presentation of the Personal Library of His Father A. Edward Newton to the Free Library of Philadelphia." Philadelphia: Free Library of Philadelphia, 1954.

ABAA. Interview with Bob Fleck, founder of Oak Knoll, 2010.

Library of Congress: Rare Book Division. A Tribute to A. Edward Newton, Christmas, 1940. US GPO, 1940.

This collection primarily consists of the personal papers and published writings of Philadelphia book collector A. Edward Newton. Correspondence, book manuscripts and typescripts, keepsakes produced by Newton, and newspaper clippings make up the bulk of the collection; other types of materials include auction and dealer catalogs, bibliographies, bookplates, drawings, etchings, fine press keepsakes, invitations, photographs, programs, and a scrapbook.

The collection includes material from most of Newton’s significant publications, with drafts, manuscripts, typescripts, and galley proofs of several of Newton’s books. It also documents many of his more ephemeral writings, including speeches and unpublished articles. He maintained files related to his book collecting activities, most notably a scrapbook full of invitations and clippings, and a portfolio documenting his 1931 speaking tour of California.

Correspondence includes both letters to and from Newton, and has been accumulated from a variety of sources and donors. Particularly prominent in the correspondence series are Moncure Biddle, William Elkins, Charles Osgood, and Gabriel Wells, all close friends of Newton. The correspondence sheds light on Philadelphia bibliophilic society in the early twentieth-century, including the collectors’ work on various library boards (including the Free Library) and professional societies and honors, particularly the Philadelphia Award.

Other items of interest in the collection include the full run of Newton’s Christmas keepsakes (produced 1907-1939, with a posthumous tribute issued by the Library of Congress in 1940) and rare bibliographies of Newton’s now-dispersed library. The Newton collection also includes several hundred published volumes, the bulk of which were written or partially written by Newton and include specially bound editions of his keepsakes for his private library. The published volumes have been cataloged and housed separately and can be found in the Library’s public catalog.

The collection is arranged in five series: I. Book collecting activities; II. Book manuscripts and other writings; III. Correspondence; IV. Personal records; and V. E. Swift Newton papers.

The first and second series are arranged alphabetically by title.

The third series, Correspondence, is arranged by source, beginning with Newton's general file of correspondence and historical family letters and then arranged alphabetically by source. Within each file, correspondence is arranged chronologically.

The fourth and fifth series are arranged alphabetically by title.

Several hundred published volumes donated as part of the A. Edward Newton collection have been cataloged individually and are findable in the Library's main catalog.

This collection was accumulated through various sources, with the bulk of the collection donated by E. Swift Newton in 1954.

Additional donors, particularly of correspondence, include A. Edward Newton himself, along with John Ashhurst, Owen and Peyton Biddle, William Elkins, Charles Osgood, Charles Sessler, and Mabel Zahn. A small number of items were purchased from dealers. For more information on specific acquisitions, please contact the Rare Book Department.

Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Caitlin Goodman
Finding Aid Date
November 2014
Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers by appointment. Please contact the Rare Book Department at 215-686-5416 for access.

Use Restrictions

The right of access to material does not imply the right of publication. Permission for reprinting, reproduction, or extensive quotation from the rare books, manuscripts, prints, or drawings must be obtained through written application, stating the use to be made of the material. The reader bears the responsibility for any possible infringement of copyright laws in the publication of such material. A reproduction fee may be charged depending on the use of the material.

Collection Inventory

Bookplates, undated.
Box 1 Folder 1-2
Catalogs, 1876-1940 and undated.
Box 1 Folder 3-6
Clippings, 1883-1937 and undated.
Box 4 Folder 1-6
Conditions Governing Use note

Use copies have been made of fragile original newsclippings where possible.

Invitations and programs, 1893-1940 and undated.
Box 4 Folder 7-9
Johnsoniana, 1892-1934 and undated.
Box 1 Folder 7-8
Keepsakes, 1828-1939 and undated.
Box 4 Folder 10-13 Box 14
"Memories of California", 1931.
Box 4 Folder 14
Scope and Contents note

These materials have been removed from a damaged leather portfolio, originally assembled by A. Edward Newton to memorialize his spring 1931 book collecting visit to California. Items include clippings, invitations, and keepsakes.

Photographs of collected books, undated.
Box 1 Folder 9
Scrapbook, 1911-1926.
Box 11
Scope and Contents note

Scrapbook includes catalog and newspaper clippings, invitations, and tear sheets.

Scope and Contents note

Newton's handwritten account of his acquisition of "The Columbus Letter," a probable forgery purchased by Newton. He does not mention its dubious provenance, but two letters from rare book dealers have been included in the file that discuss its inauthenticity.

Call Number RBD AN 1 1918 N481a2
A Busted Bibliophile, galley proofs, 1928.
Box 12
Carl Edelheim obituary, manuscript draft and typescript, 1899.
Box 4 Folder 15
Christmas keepsakes, 1911-1940.
Box 1 Folder 10-11 Box 2 Folder 1-8 Box 3 Folder 1
Diary, manuscript, 1884.
Scope and Contents note

European diary of A. Edward Newton in two scrapbooks tied with ribbon, covering June 4-August 14.

Doctor Johnson: A Play, typescript pasted in bound volume.
Scope and Contents note

Two additional bound typescripts have been cataloged as RBD AN 4 1922a and RBD AN 4 1922b and are housed separately.

Corrected typescript and clean copy, 1938.
Box 4 Folder 16
The Atlantic, 1938 November.
Box 4 Folder 17
Scope and Contents note

"E. V. Lucas: An Atlantic Portrait" ("The Passing of a Wit"'s published title) appears on pages 616-624.

Galley proofs, 1938.
Box 12
"Eddie Lacks Concentration," corrected manuscript draft, undated.
Box 4 Folder 18
"The Hen-Pecked Husbands' Club," typescript and bound pamphlets, circa 1905-1930.
Box 5 Folder 1-2
Introduction of Lionel Edie, typescript, 1932.
Box 5 Folder 3
Introduction to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's "William Blake 1757-1827: A Descriptive Catalogue of an Exhibition...," typescript, 1938.
Box 5 Folder 4
Scope and Contents note

Presentation copy given to Moncure Biddle.

Introduction to Temple Scott's Oliver Goldsmith, galley proofs, 1928.
Box 12
Keepsakes, 1927-1937.
Box 3 Folder 2-5
"A Light Blue Stocking," typescript pasted into bound journal, 1916.
Box 5 Folder 5
General note

"A Light Blue Stocking" typescript is pasted to recto of pages only, verso pages are pasted with typescript carbon copies of transcribed Samuel Johnson letters.

"A Macaroni Parson," typescript, 1918.
Box 5 Folder 6
A Magnificent Farce, typescript pasted into notebook, 1919.
Box 5 Folder 7
Newton on Blackstone, typescript, 1937.
Box 5 Folder 8
"On Living Behind the Times," manuscript draft, undated.
Box 5 Folder 9
"Parson Weems's Washington Once More," reprints, 1936.
Box 5 Folder 10
"The Pickwick Papers: A Word in Appreciation," typescript and carbon copy, circa 1928.
Box 5 Folder 11
Prolegomenon to Anthony Trollope's The American Senator, typescript carbon copy, 1940.
Box 5 Folder 12
Prolegomenon to The One Thousandth Caxton Head Catalogue, typescript carbon copy, 1931.
Box 5 Folder 13
Prospectuses and promotional material for A. Edward Newton's publications, 1918-1935.
Box 5 Folder 14
The Queeney Letters prospectus, typescript, circa 1934.
Box 5 Folder 15
"Reflections on O.W.," manuscript with typescript additions in bound volume, 1912.
Scope and Contents note

Notes made in preparation for a speech on Oscar Wilde. Much of the material edited for use in Newton's 1912 Christmas Greeting, "Oscar Wilde."

"Robert Bell," typescript, undated.
Box 5 Folder 16
"Staffordshire," offprints, 1935.
Box 5 Folder 17
"There Ought to Be a Law Against It," corrected manuscript draft, 1933.
Box 5 Folder 18
Corrected typescript carbon copy, 1928.
Box 5 Folder 19-21
Galley proofs, 1928.
Box 12
Excerpts and correspondence related to "The Quaritch Incident", 1930-1954.
Box 5 Folder 22
Scope and Contents note

In A. Edward Newton's book This Book-Collecting Game he briefly discusses a type of unofficial auction-rigging called a "knock-out," using the example of British book dealer Bernard Quaritch, Ltd. The firm sued Newton and his publisher for libel, and an apology was published and the section revised. This file includes the excerpt at question and correspondence and clippings relating to the litigation.

A Tourist in Spite of Himself, typescript, 1930.
Box 5 Folder 23
"The Trollope Society," galley proofs, 1934.
Box 12
Untitled fragment about Prohibition, typescript, circa 1929-1933.
Box 5 Folder 24
Untitled speech on bibliophilia, typescript carbon copy, undated.
Box 5 Folder 25
"When My Ship Comes In," manuscript pasted in bound volume, 1878.
"Who's Who and What's What: The Cutter Company," promotional brochures, 1913.
Box 5 Folder 26
"A Word in Memory," from A Doctor's Odyssey, typescript carbon copy, circa 1934.
Box 5 Folder 27

Scope and Contents note

The correspondence series is arranged by provenance; letters in each file may be from A. Edward Newton, to him, or simply relating to Newton. Within each file, letters are arranged chronologically.

General, 1878-1940 and undated.
Box 5 Folder 28-29 Box 6 Folder 1-3
Historical family letters, 1808-1818.
Box 6 Folder 4
Scope and Contents note

Includes letters from Sarah Thomas and a 1808 will executed by Charles Swift.

Biddle, Moncure, 1926-1957.
Box 6 Folder 5-8
Scope and Contents note

Includes correspondence between Newton and Biddle along with one folder of correspondence between Biddle and others relating to A. Edward Newton.

Scope and Contents note

Barton Currie was a book dealer who purchased bibliographer George H. Sargent's collection of A. Edward Newton correspondence in 1931. The Library aquired Currie's Newton files in 1963.

Barton Currie letters, 1931-1939 and undated.
Box 6 Folder 9
Christopher Morley letters to George H. Sargent, 1926.
Box 6 Folder 10
George H. Sargent letters, 1925-1929.
Box 6 Folder 11-12
Dudley, E. Lawrence, 1936-1938.
Box 6 Folder 13
Elkins, William McIntire, 1929-1940 and undated.
Box 6 Folder 14-15
Free Library of Philadelphia, 1923-1930.
Box 6 Folder 16
Osgood, Charles G., 1908-1940.
Box 6 Folder 17 Box 7 Folder 1-5
Ross, Gordon, 1925.
Box 7 Folder 6
Scope and Contents note

Letters from Ross have been pasted into a bound volume.

Swift, S. Matilda, 1896-1903.
Box 7 Folder 7-8
Scope and Contents note

This file includes letters from Newton's aunt, S. Matilda Swift, some pasted into a bound volume. The front pastedown of the bound volume also includes Newton's manuscript draft of a memorial for his father-in-law Carl Edelheim.

Tregaskis family, 1912-1934.
Box 7 Folder 9-10
Scope and Contents note

Newton's letters to James, Eve, and Hugh Tregaskis.

Wells, Gabriel, 1918-1940 and undated.
Box 7 Folder 11-14

Art, 1911-1933 and undated.
Box 3 Folder 6-7 Box 13-15
Scope and Contents note

This file includes art created for A. Edward Newton, including sketches for bookplates and caricatures, as well as art owned by Newton, including a palm-sized model of England's Coronation Chair, a life-size bust of Newton, and a caricature of Dickens and Thackeray. Framed and oversize items are in boxes 14 and 15.

Awards and certificates, 1931-1940 and undated.
Box 3 Folder 8-9 Box 13-14
Biographical writings, 1930-1938.
Box 8 Folder 1-2
Scope and Contents note

This file includes drafts and notes for Moncure Biddle's 1938 "A. Edward Newton: An Appreciation;" an honorary degree introduction by Felix Schlling; a 1930 biographical sketch of Newton published in Electrical Manufacturing; and an undated illustrated manuscript (circa 1934) "The Diverting History of A. Edward" by "Glue and William" (Christopher Morley and William M. Elkins).

Photographs, undated.
Box 3 Folder 10 Box 9 Box 13 Box 15

Scope and Contents note

This series includes materials A. Edward Newton's son, E. Swift Newton, collected or created. The bulk of the items relate to A. Edward Newton's book collecting and writings.

Bibliographies, catalogs, and keepsakes, 1940-1966 and undated.
Box 10
Clippings, 1940-1942 and undated.
Box 8 Folder 3-7
Correspondence, 1940-1959.
Box 3 Folder 11-12
Scope and Contents note

This file is predominantly E. Swift Newton's correspondence relating to his father and his father's estate, it also includes copyright registrations for This Book-Collecting Game.

World War II Red Cross diary, typescript, 1943-1944.
Box 3 Folder 13
Scope and Contents note

E. Swift Newton spent almost two years in the Red Cross stationed in England during World War II. After the war, he typed up the diary he kept to distribute more widely.

Print, Suggest