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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Special Report

Michigan’s Bibliomaniac

“The first book printed in English describing actual settlements in England,” Thomas Hariot’s (ca. 1560-1621) A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (London, 1588) was one of William L. Clements’ prize possessions. He bought the Henry Huth copy in 1914 from Bernard Quaritch for $7,000, and called it “the star of all Americana.” London dealer Henry N. Stevens, who sold Clements many of his greatest acquisitions, wrote in the 1920s, “Collectors of rare English books always speak reverently and even mysteriously of the ‘quarto Hariot’ as they do of the ‘first folio.’ It is given to but few of them to touch or to see it, for not more than seven copies are at present know to exist.”
William L. Clements acquired his copy of John Smith’s (1580-1631) Description of New England (London, 1616) in 1917 for $4,000. Complete with the rare folding map featuring a portrait of Smith, and bound in limp vellum, it is from the library of Sir William Douglas, first Earl of Queensberry, and bears his crest on the front and back covers.
The binding of the Clements copy of the 1685 Eliot Bible is by Francis Bedford, “in his most elegant manner.” The 1914 Merwin catalogue of the Hubbard sale describes it as “full crimson crushed levant morocco, sides neatly gilt and blind tooled, with corner ornaments and gilt centre-pieces, richly gilt back with heavy bands, inside gilt line borders.” The Library’s collection includes many impressive bindings by Bedford, Bayntun of Bath, Zaehnsdorf, Sanford, Pratt, Sangorski & Sutcliffe, Riviere, and other leading craftsmen of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
William L. Clements purchased his copy of the second edition of John Eliot’s (1604-1690) Indian Bible (Cambridge, 1685) at the 1914 auction of the collection of Houghton, Michigan, collector Lucius L. Hubbard. It once belonged to Native American Presbyterian clergyman Samson Occom (1723-92) and bears his 1748 signature on the last page.
Early American prints and views are a major strength of the Clements Library. This hand- colored engraving shows Fort George and the city of New York in the 1760s. Constructed on the site of the Dutch Fort Amsterdam, Fort George stood until 1788, when it was demolished and the rubble used as landfill at Battery Park. London publisher Carrington Bowles issued this popular print from the mid-1760s into the 1790s, and the Clements copy is on paper watermarked 1794.
Joseph Galloway’s (1731-1802) Arguments on Both Sides in the Dispute Between Great-Britain and Her Colonies ([London], 1774) is one of several American and British thousand political pamphlets of the American Revolution era in the Clements Library collection. In it Galloway discusses his “plan of union” for creation of an American colonial parliament to help preserve England’s North American empire.
Samuel de Champlain’s (1567-1635) Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France Occidentale, dicte Canada (Paris, 1632) is a seminal work on the early exploration and settlement of North America. The Clements copy, complete with all maps and illustrations, is bound in seventeenth-century vellum and was part of the remarkable library of Robert Hoe (1839-1909).

With the Cooke nuggets in hand, Clements began buying Americana from Francis P. Harper in New York, C. F. Libbie in Boston, and the sales of the Anderson Auction Company. He met legendary dealer George D. Smith in 1905, but apparently Smith’s emphasis on supplying rarities to Henry E. Huntington kept him from selling much to Clements. By the early 1910s, Clements had caught the Americana bug in a serious way. Mostly shut out by Huntington’s much fatter wallet at the first two of the fabulous Robert Hoe auctions in 1911, in 1912 he purchased 140 choice early American titles—Anne Bradstreet’s Tenth Muse (1650), Adriaen Van der Donck’s Beschryvinge van Nieuw-Nederlandt (1656); William Smith’s History of the Province of New-York (1757); Bernard Romans, East and West Florida (1775)—that had belonged to New York City collector Newbold Edgar, from Lathrop Harper, for $17,500.

‘If a man is even moderately enthusiastic, and has actually collected a sufficient number of books [he has] a case of Bibliomania.’

The following year Clements brought his first full-time librarian to Bay City to care for and catalogue his 3,000 volumes. In 1914, perhaps encouraged by his acquisition of Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588), which he described as “the star of all Americana,” he had sufficient pride in his holdings to publish Uncommon, Scarce and Rare Books Relating to American History … from the Library of William L. Clements.

Issuing his catalogue did nothing to slow Clements’ pace of acquisition. He plunged with enthusiasm into the bibliographic tar pit of Thedor de Bry’s Voyages (1590-1634), Levinus Hulsius’ Sammlung von sechs und zwanzig Schiffahrten in verschiedene fremde Land (1598-1660), and the Jesuit Relations (1632-72), building superb collections of those seminal sources on early America. Expanding his horizons from books and pamphlets, in 1918 he bought 3,000 volumes of duplicate 18th- and early 19th-century American newspapers from the American Antiquarian Society. When high-priced rarities became available—James Rosier’s True Relation of … the Discovery of the Land of Virginia (1605) in 1918 from Philadelphia dealer A. S. W. Rosenbach for $6,000; Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Voyages (1599-1600), along with John Smith’s True Relation of … Virginia (1608) and Description of New England (1616) for a total of $13,000 from George D. Smith in 1919—Clements invariably noted how much his hobby was costing him (in 1919 he spent $60,000 on acquisitions, making his total expenditures on books since 1903 more than $400,000) and then wrote the check. “I am adding Americana as fast as opportunity offers,” he wrote to Clarence Brigham at AAS. “I do not know what I would do if I did not have this interest.”

By the end of the 1910s Clements had begun considering what to do with his collection. He had visited the great Americana libraries in New York and New England, and that experience shaped his thinking. In September 1919, at a meeting of the University of Michigan regents, he informally offered his library to his alma mater. The following month, as chair of the board’s library committee he led a delegation of University regents and librarians back to the East Coast so they could share his vision of how to proceed, and in February 1920 he placed a formal offer before the regents. They accepted immediately, and over the course of the next three years Clements and the university crafted an agreement.

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