University of Texas at Austin

James F. Drake, Inc.:

An Inventory of Its Collection of Autograph Letters and Autographs at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: James F. Drake, Inc., 1911-1965
Title: James F. Drake, Inc. Collection of Autograph Letters and Autographs
Dates: circa 1678-1930
Extent: 19 document boxes (7.98 linear feet)
Abstract: The collection was assembled by the firm of James F. Drake, Inc. in the 1930s and includes correspondence of Dorothy Furman, Francis W. Halsey, Temple Scott, as well as letters written by 19th-century American political and military figures, American and British literary figures, clerics, and actors. Of added interest are the receipt books of John C. Freeke (1795-1799), Luke Gage (1835-1839), and Adam Partridge (1858-1885) which record the settlement of accounts with clients in New York, giving sums paid, nature of the debt, and the signatures of the creditors.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-02154
Language: English, Dutch, German, Spanish, French
Access: Open for research. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days' notice for access in the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material:

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchase, 1965
Processed by: Joan Sibley, Delia Avila, and Bob Taylor, 1996; Kevin O’Sullivan, 2010; revisions by Joan Sibley, Bob Taylor, and Richard Workman, with assistance from Ken Pearson, 2022

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Organizational History

The firm of James F. Drake, Inc. was established in 1911 by James Frederick Drake (1863-1933) for the sale of rare books and manuscripts. For the native New Yorker the firm represented the culmination of a career in books and publishing that was already of thirty years' duration. Drake's sons Marston E. and James H. Drake entered the firm in the teens, and by the time of the senior Drake's death the firm on West 40th Street was a mecca for bookmen in the New York area.
The Drake brothers continued in the tradition of their father, but upon the retirement of Marston ("the Colonel") and death in 1965 of Jim the entire stock of the firm and its business records were acquired by the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

Scope and Contents

This collection of autograph letters and autographs was assembled by the firm of James F. Drake, Inc. in the 1930s for sale by that rare-book firm; it was acquired by the Humanities Research Center upon the Ransom Center's acquisition of Drake's stock in the 1965. The collection is overwhelmingly in English, but there are a few items in Dutch, as well as one or two in Spanish, French, or German.
The collection--housed in 17 document boxes and nine bound volumes--represents correspondence covering a span of over two hundred years and three continents. Perhaps 90% of this material comprises complete autograph letters. The majority of these are housed alphabetically by writer in boxes 4-15, boxes 1-3 containing the correspondence of three persons discussed below. The remainder of the letters and all the autographs are in boxes 16 and 17 and the bound volumes.
Within the larger collection there are three substantial sub-groups which represent the correspondence of three very different individuals. The first of these is Dorothy Furman's correspondence, which covers the years 1890 to 1915, and which includes replies from bibliophiles and authors to whom the New Jersey-based collector had written suggesting an exchange of personal bookplates. Most of the hundred-plus replies are politely brief but others are longer and give insight into their writers, many of whom are notables in America's intellectual life of the period, such as John Shaw Billings, Alfred Kreymborg, and Curtis Hidden Page.
Letters received by Francis W. Halsey (1851-1919) between 1892 and 1902 reflect the activity of that historian-editor in his capacity as literary editor of the New York Times and represent many significant public figures of the age, including Julian Ralph, Thomas E. Watson, and Anne Hollingsworth Wharton.
The third major collected correspondence found in the Drake materials is that of Temple Scott (1864-1939), British-born New York rare-book dealer. Correspondents in this business archive from the years 1929 and 1930 comprise several major figures of the period, including Jerome Kern and William H. Woodin.
The numerous letters from the correspondence of Lord James Blyth (1841-1925) are not separately organized but are dispersed throughout the Drake collection. They span the last quarter-century of his life and give some indication of the great breadth of his public and social relationships. Britons (and non-Britons) notable in the political, cultural, and intellectual life of Edwardian Great Britain were among Baron Blyth's vast social network and are often found in informal moments in this archive. Represented in the segment of the collection are Margot Asquith, Paul Cambon, and Fürstin Anne Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg.
Other substantial groupings in the Drake collection include a significant number of letters written by 19th-century American political and military figures, especially presidents, cabinet officers, and Civil War generals. American and British literary figures, clerics, and actors are also found in the collection.
While not numerous, there are also a number of interesting 18th-century letters and documents in the Drake collection. Materials relating to the Van Bokkelen and Gomez families of New York, as well as to two of New York City's early mayors (Nicholas Bayard and Abraham De Peyster) are included.
The nine bound volumes include seven scrapbooks of autographs assembled by turn-of-the-century collectors, together with two receipt books kept by early New York businessmen. Most of the scrapbooks have had letters removed for individual sale.
The receipt book of John C. Freeke records the settlement of accounts with clients in New York in the years 1795-1799, giving sums paid, nature of the debt, and the signatures of the creditors. Names found include Roosevelt, Suydam, Vanderbilt, and Wyckoff. The receipt book of Luke Gage (1835-1839) and of Adam Partridge (1858-1885) is similar to the Freeke volume but covers a later period.
The two scrapbooks assembled by Florence Evans Ebeling comprise, in the main, mounted letters and autographs from the correspondence of her father William T. Evans (1843-1918), a noted New York art collector. Also found in these scrapbooks are letters addressed to William Budd Bodine (1841-1907), Episcopal cleric and author.
Mrs. Bertram Thornber's two scrapbooks of mounted letters appear to have been collected shortly after 1900 and comprise autograph letters and autographs of eminent Britons. A number of the letters are no longer present in the volumes.
The autograph scrapbook of C. Lucile Godfrey of Stratford, Connecticut. (apparently compiled about 1900) has, in the main, been stripped of its contents. A few letters to Dr. Charles C. Godfrey remain.
The eighth volume of autograph letters contains letters to the Very Rev. George W. Kitchin (1827-1912) from a variety of late 19th century Britons, particularly those with connections to Oxford and the Church of England. This volume was apparently collected by a member of the Kitchin household about 1900.
The ninth (and final) bound volume contains the signatures of President Rutherford B. Hayes, the vice president, cabinet, and the members of the 45th Congress of 1877-1879.
In 2022, the unidentified items in box 17 were reviewed and 34 letters and 229 signatures were identified, though a few items still remain unidentified. The newly identified items represent mainly literary, political, and military figures, also some performers and artists, most dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of the military signatures are for Civil War-era Union surgeons. There are four eighteenth-century items (1704-1713) and one item from early in Queen Victoria’s reign (1838). A number of the newly-identified items can now be matched with items by the same creator elsewhere in this collection. Creator names for the items in box 17 can be located by searching the Index in this finding aid for “17.” to find all items in the box. A printed list of the names arranged in folder order is also filed in box 17.

James F. Drake, Inc.--Box List