At over 22,000 rare books and over 65 linear feet of manuscript materials, The John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection is easily the largest single collection in FSU Special Collections & Archives. It serves as a living testament to its creator, John MacKay Shaw (May 15, 1897-March 15, 1984), an AT&T business executive, philanthropist, writer, and bibliophile. While the original 5,000+ volumes in Shaw’s book collection focused on 18th and 19th century British and American poetry written about childhood and/or for children, it has expanded to contain volumes on biography, bibliography, collecting, writing, and publishing. The collection contains works by major authors and illustrators — Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Kate Greenaway, Thomas Bewick, and Lewis Carroll, to name a few — and can serve research interests as diverse as publishers’ bindings, Victorian serials, sacred hymns, and World War I.
The books of the Shaw Collection are wonderfully complimented by the John MacKay Shaw manuscript collection (01/MSS 2008-006). This collection includes Shaw’s personal correspondence (including letters from Dr. Seuss!), lectures, and photographs, as well as administrative information about the development of the Shaw Collection at FSU Libraries. Among the literary materials in the manuscript collection can be found Shaw’s meticulous notes and source materials for his five-volume bibliography on Childhood in Poetry. It is these bibliographic notes that give us window into the world of a twentieth-century book collector.
Shaw’s bibliographic notes are organized by author, with a listing and description of every book by that author in the collection. There are also notes on where each volume was purchased and for how much (invaluable information to anyone studying the provenance of books in the collection), sometimes accompanied by the delightful anecdotes of a true bibliophile. Under the file for John Ruskin, Shaw remarks of the 1885 edition of Dame Wiggins of Lee, and Her Seven Wonderful Cats illustrated by Kate Greenaway:
“This has been for me a most illusive book. Although not an expensive one… it has seemed that I either bid low or my order gets to the bookseller just after someone else has bought it. Now I have a copy, and an almost perfect one it is.”
In a digital world, where online auction sites and search engines have revolutionized the world of book selling and collecting, Shaw’s notes tell of the struggles and triumphs of a collector in this golden age of bibliophilia. Shaw’s manuscripts add rich layers of meaning to the books in his collection, and both will live on for generations to come.