Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927), collector

Henry E. Huntington
Henry E. Huntington. Public Domain.

American railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington had a lifelong interest in books , but until 1911 he was relatively unknown as a book collector. In that year he purchased the E. Dwight Church library before spending heavily at the Hoe sale. Huntington worked closely with dealer George D. Smith for the first time at the Hoe sale, and their purchases together immediately raised the stature of his library.

Huntington would continue to play a leading role in the market until 1926. He would go on to accumulate further libraries—including the important Devonshire and Bridgewater libraries in 1914 and 1917 respectively but he also bought constantly from auctions and book catalogues. As his own library quickly grew, Huntington relied on the advice of many experienced dealers, librarians and bibliographers, notably Smith, A. S. W. Rosenbach, George Watson Cole, Mitchell Kennerley, Charles Sessler and Leslie Bliss (amongst others).

One of the most common complaints levelled against Huntington was that he raised prices in the book collecting world. He certainly set a number of high records, including $50,000 for the Hoe Gutenberg Bible in 1911 and $75,500 for the unique copy of the fifth edition of Venus and Adonis in 1919. In 1927 W. N. C. Carleton estimated in the American Book Collector that Huntington had spent between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 in total on books.

The Huntington Library was officially founded in 1919, and was particularly well represented in the areas of English and American literature and history. Contemporary American newspapers often described Huntington as the greatest collector the world had ever known. After his death the New York Times wrote that he left 'the greatest private library every assembled in the history of the world, and one that, in respect of items of the very first importance, is a match for many famous public collections.'

Danielle Magnusson