A. Edward Newton collection


Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
Call Number
Newton, A. Edward (Alfred Edward), 1864-1940
Newton, E. Swift (Edward Swift)
A. Edward Newton collection
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1892-1941
Date [inclusive]
8.0 Linear feet
This collection consists of the personal and professional papers of Philadelphia book collector A. Edward Newton (1864-1940). The bulk of the materials are book manuscripts, correspondence, keepsakes, and newspaper clippings, with published volumes cataloged separately. The collection relates to his book collecting activities and was primarily compiled by his son, E. Swift Newton, with additional material given by various donors.
Cite as
[Description and date of item], [Box and folder number], A. Edward Newton collection, 1808-1966, Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department.

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.

Publication Information:

Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department, November 2014

Finding Aid Author:

Finding aid prepared by Caitlin Goodman

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.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

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.

Corporate Name(s)
  • Bernard Quaritch (Firm).
  • Free Library of Philadelphia.
  • Auction catalogs
  • Bibliographies
  • Bookplates
  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Galley proofs
  • Keepsakes (books)
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
Personal Name(s)
  • Ashhurst, John, 1865-1932
  • Biddle, Moncure, 1882-
  • Carson, Hampton L. (Hampton Lawrence), 1852-1929
  • Chrystal, G. (George), 1851-1911
  • Currie, Barton, 1877-1962
  • Dudley, E. Lawrence (Edward Lawrence), 1879-
  • Edelheim, Carl
  • Elkins, William McIntire, 1882-1947
  • Lewis, John Frederick, 1860-1932.
  • Lucas, E. V. (Edward Verrall), 1868-1938
  • Morley, Christopher, 1890-1957
  • Newton, Babette
  • Newton, E. Swift (Edward Swift)
  • Osgood, Charles Grosvenor, 1871-1964
  • Rosenbach, A. S. W. (Abraham Simon Wolf), 1876-1952
  • Sargent, George H. (George Henry), 1867-1931
  • Tregaskis, Eve
  • Tregaskis, Hugh
  • Tregaskis, James, 1850-1926
  • Wells, Gabriel, 1862-1946
  • Bibliomania
  • Bibliophilia
  • Book collecting
  • Exhibitions
  Date Call-Number Box Folder
Book collecting activities 1828-1940
Bookplates undated 1
Catalogs 1876-1940 and undated 1
Clippings 1883-1937 and undated 4
Invitations and programs 1893-1940 and undated 4
Johnsoniana 1892-1934 and undated 1
Oversize and framed keepsakes are in box 14.
1828-1939 and undated 4
"Memories of California"
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.
1931 4
Photographs of collected books undated 1
Scrapbook includes catalog and newspaper clippings, invitations, and tear sheets.
1911-1926 11
Book manuscripts and other writings
Five of the items in this series are cataloged and shelved with published volumes; their titles link directly to the Library's main catalog and their call number.
1899-1940 and undated
An account of "The Columbus Letter," manuscript
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.
The Amenities of Book-Collecting, proof sheets 1918 RBD AN 1 1918 N481a2
A Busted Bibliophile, galley proofs 1928 12
Carl Edelheim obituary, manuscript draft and typescript 1899 4
Christmas keepsakes
Additional keepsakes bound into decorative volumes by A. Edward Newton have been cataloged separately as published volumes, findable through the Library catalog.
1911-1940 3
Diary, manuscript
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
Two additional bound typescripts have been cataloged as RBD AN 4 1922a and RBD AN 4 1922b and are housed separately.
"E. V. Lucas: The Passing of a Wit" 1938
Corrected typescript and clean copy 1938 4
The Atlantic
"E. V. Lucas: An Atlantic Portrait" ("The Passing of a Wit"'s published title) appears on pages 616-624.
1938 November 4
Galley proofs 1938 12
"Eddie Lacks Concentration," corrected manuscript draft undated 4
"The Hen-Pecked Husbands' Club," typescript and bound pamphlets circa 1905-1930 5
Introduction of Lionel Edie, typescript 1932 5
Introduction to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's "William Blake 1757-1827: A Descriptive Catalogue of an Exhibition...," typescript
Presentation copy given to Moncure Biddle.
1938 5
Introduction to Temple Scott's Oliver Goldsmith, galley proofs 1928 12
Keepsakes 1927-1937 3
"A Light Blue Stocking," typescript pasted into bound journal
"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.
1916 5
"A Macaroni Parson," typescript 1918 5
A Magnificent Farce, typescript pasted into notebook 1919 5
Newton on Blackstone, typescript 1937 5
"On Living Behind the Times," manuscript draft undated 5
"Parson Weems's Washington Once More," reprints 1936 5
"The Pickwick Papers: A Word in Appreciation," typescript and carbon copy circa 1928 5
Prolegomenon to Anthony Trollope's The American Senator, typescript carbon copy 1940 5
Prolegomenon to The One Thousandth Caxton Head Catalogue, typescript carbon copy 1931 5
Prospectuses and promotional material for A. Edward Newton's publications 1918-1935 5
The Queeney Letters prospectus, typescript circa 1934 5
"Reflections on O.W.," manuscript with typescript additions in bound volume
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 5
"Staffordshire," offprints 1935 5
"There Ought to Be a Law Against It," corrected manuscript draft 1933 5
This Book-Collecting Game 1928-1955
Corrected typescript carbon copy 1928 5
Galley proofs 1928 12
Excerpts and correspondence related to "The Quaritch Incident"
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.
1930-1954 5
A Tourist in Spite of Himself, typescript 1930 5
"The Trollope Society," galley proofs 1934 12
Untitled fragment about Prohibition, typescript circa 1929-1933 5
Untitled speech on bibliophilia, typescript carbon copy undated 5
"When My Ship Comes In," manuscript pasted in bound volume 1878
"Who's Who and What's What: The Cutter Company," promotional brochures 1913 5
"A Word in Memory," from A Doctor's Odyssey, typescript carbon copy circa 1934 5
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.
1808-1957 and undated
General 1878-1940 and undated 6
Historical family letters
Includes letters from Sarah Thomas and a 1808 will executed by Charles Swift.
1808-1818 6
Biddle, Moncure
Includes correspondence between Newton and Biddle along with one folder of correspondence between Biddle and others relating to A. Edward Newton.
1926-1957 6
Currie, Barton
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.
1925 to 1939 and undated
Barton Currie letters 1931-1939 and undated 6
Christopher Morley letters to George H. Sargent 1926 6
George H. Sargent letters 1925-1929 6
Dudley, E. Lawrence 1936-1938 6
Elkins, William McIntire 1929-1940 and undated 6
Free Library of Philadelphia 1923-1930 6
Osgood, Charles G. 1908-1940 7
Ross, Gordon
Letters from Ross have been pasted into a bound volume.
1925 7
Swift, S. Matilda
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.
1896-1903 7
Tregaskis family
Newton's letters to James, Eve, and Hugh Tregaskis.
1912-1934 7
Wells, Gabriel 1918-1940 and undated 7
Personal records 1911-1940 and undated
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.
1911-1933 and undated 13-15
Awards and certificates
Framed and oversize items are in box 14.
1931-1940 and undated 13-14
Biographical writings
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).
1930-1938 8
Photographs undated 15
E. Swift Newton papers
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.
1940-1966 and undated
Bibliographies, catalogs, and keepsakes 1940-1966 and undated 10
Clippings 1940-1942 and undated 8
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.
1940-1959 3
World War II Red Cross diary, typescript
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.
1943-1944 3

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