Collecting Elzeviers (1)

By the end of the seventeenth century, Elzevier books were widely collected. The interest in the publishing dynasty never diminished. Apart from private collections, major holdings outside the Netherlands are to be found in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and St Petersburg. Amongst book collectors, the Elzeviers were particularly popular in the Britain, especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sale catalogues would specifically refer to Elzevier in their listings and – if there was a notable number on offer – the name was carried on the title page. Although the Elzeviers did not publish in English, they were responsible for the Latin works of a number of English and Scottish authors. By the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Elzevier books were widely available in England and such eminent figures as Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Burton, Thomas Browne, John Milton and John Dryden had copies in their collections. As a consequence, excellent holdings are to be found in the British Library, the Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, and the National Library of Scotland, as well as the collection held at Senate House Library (ULL).

The origin of the excellent ULL collection is rather obscure. Archival details show that on 1 October 1900 a collection of Elzevier publications was offered to the Guildhall Library by H.A. Beaumont (sometimes recorded as H.K. Beaumont – his identity remains a mystery although there was a C.W. Beaumont, bookseller, at 75 Charing Cross Road at the beginning of the century) at a price of £50. The Library Committee accepted the offer. The collection was housed in the Guildhall. The press-marking of books was based upon Alphonse Willems’s catalogue and a set of paper title slips accompanied the collection, but no catalogue was produced. On 3 June 1946, the then Librarian reported to the Library Committee that, due to a lack of storage space, the collection should be housed elsewhere, either on permanent loan or as an outright gift. Subsequently, part of the collection was given to the University of London which was formally acknowledged by a letter from the Chairman of the University Court to the Librarian, dated 14 July 1950. The complete collection of Elzeviers is searchable on line.

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