About the Pforzheimer

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The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle is one of the world's leading repositories for the study of English Romanticism. Its holdings consist of some 25,000 books, manuscripts, letters, and other objects, chiefly from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The collection was the creation of the financier Carl H. Pforzheimer, Sr. (1879–1957), who took a special interest in the lives and works of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his contemporaries, including his second wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and such friends and fellow writers as Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, Teresa Guiccioli, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock, Horace Smith, and Edward John Trelawny.

As Percy Bysshe Shelley is the central figure of the repository, nearly all the materials in the Pforzheimer Collection relate in some way to him, his family and contemporaries, or the culture in which he lived. A vast sub-collection of Shelleyana includes his family's financial documents, realia and relics — including what are said to be fragments of his skull — and various works of biography, criticism, and appreciation.

The Pforzheimer Collection Reading Room, which incorporates many of the furnishings of the original Pforzheimer Library. Photograph © Peter Aaron/ESTO

Due to its extensive Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley holdings, materials concerning women have always formed an important component of the collection. Books and manuscripts by many lesser-known women writers of the period can be found along with "advice books," manuals on child-rearing, etiquette, and domestic economy, and a number of key proto-feminist texts. Political radicalism, British reaction to the French Revolution, European travel, and publishing history are some of the other subjects covered by the collection.

Carl H. Pforzheimer was a New York businessman and philanthropist whose pioneering approach to collecting brought together manuscripts, books, and relics. The establishing purchases were made in 1920 at the sale of the library of H. Buxton Forman (1842–1917), the Shelley bibliographer. Only a few of the items acquired from the Forman sale were Shelley manuscripts, but regular acquisitions over the next four decades, mostly through auction, led to an accumulation of more than 200 items in Shelley's hand by the time of Pforzheimer's death. In the following years, under the auspices of the Pforzheimer Library, the collection acquired a number of important Shelley manuscripts, including the Esdaile Notebook, a then-unpublished volume of Shelley's juvenile writings.

The Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, Inc. donated the Shelley and His Circle Collection to The New York Public Library in 1986. Today, the collection continues actively to acquire books and manuscripts relating to major and minor figures of the Romantic era, as well as works that illuminate the social, political, and cultural history of the age.

Carl H. Pforzheimer, Sr. (1879–1957)

 

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