Papers re Lucien Bonaparte Library

Scope and Content

Papers relating to the library of Louis Lucien Bonaparte (1815-1891), a nephew of Napolean Bonaparte I. While living in London in the 1850s, this amateur comparative linguist established a large philological library. His library contained approximately 30,000 volumes, including grammars, dictionaries, polyglot literature and examples from a wide range of European languages. The collection of Basque literature was particularly notable.

After the death of Bonaparte in 1891, the collection passed to his widow, the Princess Bonaparte (Clémence Richard). In 1894, Victor Collins, on behalf of the owner, compiled Attempt at a Catalogue of the Library of the late Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte, published by Henry Sotheran & Co. in preparation for its sale at auction. The collection was originally offered for sale at the price of £40,000. There was some interest in the collection, but it was generally accepted that this was too high a price. In November 1894 Edward E. Ayer, one of the founder members of the Newberry Library, Chicago, was informed of a revised price of £20,000. In 1895 Charles Welch, the Librarian of Guildhall Library in London, founded the Bonaparte Library Committee, aiming to keep the collection in England rather than America. An agreement was made with the Princess by which the Committee was given time to raise the required funds. However, the agreement expired before the money could be raised, and the collection went back on the market in September 1896, now priced at £5,500.

In October 1896 negotiations restarted with the Newberry Library in Chicago. However, their offer of £5,000 was refused by the Princess, and Sotheran's were surprised to be informed that the collection had been sold to a London bookdealer, Mr H[enry] S[idney] Nichols. Negotiations resumed in May 1901, but the bankruptcy of Nichols complicated matters. In July 1901 Sotheran's negotiated a price for Edward Ayer of £4,000 and the collection was purchased for the Newberry Library, Chicago, although it took some months before the collection could be shipped. The final price was a tenth of that originally asked.

This series comprises papers and correspondence relating to the sale of the collection, in particular negotiations concerning the valuation from 1894-1896 and the final arrangements in 1901. It also contains a list of the manuscripts in the collection, which were not listed in Collins' catalogue. Some pages are numbered (noted in square brackets). 

  • /1: Sheet marked 'Buonaparte Library'
  • /2-3: Typescript summarising the sale of the Prince Lucien Bonaparte Library by H. Sotheran & Co. to the Newberry Library in 1901 for £4000, with manuscript note by Railton.
  • /4-5: Letters from Victor Collins, 2 December 1893 [1] and 25 April 1894 [2] re the price of the Library.
  • /6-7: Letter from Victor Collins, 23 November 1894, agreeing a reduction of the asking price to £20,000 [3], letter from Edward E. Ayer, Chicago, 12 November 1894, enquiring after the lowest price that would buy the Bonaparte Library, and copy reply from Sotheran's 25 November 1894 quoting the revised price of £20,000 [4].
  • /8: Copy letter to John Bigelow, trustee of the Tilden Library, New York, 19 January 1895, concerning the reduced price of the Bonaparte Library [5], telegram from Victor Collins to 'Bookman' [Sotheran's] 19 July 1895 and reply of 20 July 1895 concerning price of collection for speculative purchase (£7000) [6].
  • /9 Printed notice of the formation of the Bonaparte Library Committee , letter from Charles Welch, honorary secretary of the Committee, 5 September 1896, concerning the expiry of the agreement with the Princess Bonaparte [7], copy letters notifying potential purchasers that the Bonaparte Library was again on the market, 7 September 1896, and regarding an approach by a likely customer, 8 September 1896 [8].
  • /10: Copy of letter [?from Collins to H. Sotheran] concerning terms for a potential purchase and stating a minimum price of £5,500, 12 September 1896 [9].
  • /11: Copy of letter [to Collins?] 14 September 1896, stating that the price quoted is too high, and questioning whether Guildhall Library would have a prior claim, with a quote from a telegram from Collins stating that no prior claim exists [10].
  • /12-13: Copies of three letters concerning negotiations for the purchase of the Library, [from Collins] 15 September 1896, [to Collins] 16 September 1896 and [from Collins] 17 September 1896. [11-12]
  • /14: Copy letter to E.E. Ayer, 19 September 1896, stating the price of the collection to be £5,775 [13-14].
  • /15: Letter from Franklin H. Head, Newberry Library Chicago, 9 October 1896, offering £5,000 for the collection [15], copy letter to Victor Collins 28 October 1896 concerning negotiations over price [16].
  • /16: Copy letter Victor Collins 31 October 1896 regarding the refusal of the Princess to make concessions [17] and copy letter from Sotheran to Franklin H. Head 4 November 1896 concerning negotiations for the purchase [18].
  • /17: Letter from E.W. Blatchford, president of the Newberry Library, 17 November 1896 [19] and telegraph [20], both confirming their offer for the Library.
  • /18: Copy letter to Princess Bonaparte, 18 November 1896, stating the offer from the Newberry Library [21], and letter from Victor Collins 18 November 1896 stating that the Bonaparte Library had been sold to Mr H.S. Nichols [22].
  • /19: Copy letter to the president of the Newberry Library [E.W. Blatchford], 20 November 1896 notifying of the sale of the Library to a London book dealer and detailing the negotiations undertaken by Sotherans [23-24].
  • /20: Letter from Harvey Preen & Co., chartered accountants, to H. Sotheran & Co, 15 May 1901, stating the price of the Bonaparte Library to be £4,500, with reply from Sotheran, 16 May 1901, offering £4,000 [25] and letter from Harvey Preen & Co. restating the price, 17 May 1901 [26].
  • /21: Two letters from Preen & Co. dated 22 May 1901, the first agreeing terms but restating the price as £4,500 [27] and the second agreeing commission to be paid to H. Sotheran & Co. [28].
  • /22: Copy reply from Sotheran to Preen, 23 May 1901 [29] and copy letter to Edward E. Ayer concerning negotiations, 23 May 1901 [30].
  • /23: Telegram from Ayer offering £4,250, 21 June 1901, and copy letter to Preen, 21 June 1901 stating offer of £4,000 [31], telegram from Ayer, 27 June 1901 stating 'will take Bonaparte Library at option price if you cannot do better' and telegram from 'Garlick' 27 June 1901 accepting offer [32].
  • /24: Copy letter to Preen, 27 June 1901, and telegram to Ayer concerning acceptance of offer of £4,000 [33], with copy letter to Ayer, 29 June 1901, describing the negotiations [34].
  • /25: Copy letter to Preen, 1 July 1901, agreeing revised commission of 8% [35] and acceptance letter from Preen, 2 July 1901 [36].
  • /26: Copy letter to Preen, 22 July 1901, enquiring after the remainder of the collection stored in Hackney, and enquiring after possible complications due to the bankruptcy [37] and letter from Edward Ayer concerning checking of collection, 2 August 1901 [38].
  • /27: Letter from Rye & Eyre [to H. Sotheran] with copy letter from Slaughter & May, 6-7 August 1901, concerning potential difficulties caused by Mr Nichols' bankruptcy [39] and copy letter to E.E. Ayer, 10 August 1901, concerning finalisation of the purchase [40].
  • /28: Copy letter to E.E. Ayer 14 September 1901 explaining the delay in finalising the purchase caused by the bankruptcy of Mr Nichols, including a transcription of a letter from Sotheran's solicitors dated 11 September 1901 [41] and copy letter to E.E. Ayer 21 September 1901 confirming the shipment of the Library [42].
  • /29: Letter from Rye & Eyre, 28 August 1901, concerning delays caused by members of the syndicate going abroad and so being unable to sign an authority to enable the money to be received [43] and letter from E. Hobbs, trustee of Mr Nichols, to Harvey Preen 12 August 1901, withdrawing any claim to the books [44].
  • /30: Letter from Harvey Preen & Co. re arrangements for payment, 21 August 1901, and letter from Rye & Eyre, 21 August 1901 re disclaimers [45], and disclaimer of interest in the Library signed by Harvey Preen as receiver in the liquidation of H.S. Nichols, and request for payment to be made direct to Slaughter & May [46].
  • /31: Invoice and receipt of £4,000 in payment for the Bonaparte Library, signed by the five members of the syndicate, 16 September 1901 [47] and receipt for warehousing costs from Slaughter & May, 16 September 1901 [48].
  • /32: Typescript list (12 pages) of manuscripts in the Bonaparte Library, n.d. [1894] [the printed books had been catalogued by Victor Collins].