Austin, Texas: [Printed by E.T. Heron, and Co., for] The University of Texas at Austin, 1920. First Edition. 5 vols., 8vo. Frontispiece portrait of Wrenn by Emery Walker, 12, 315 pp.; 4 ff. (first blank), 293 pp., 1 f. (blank); 4 ff. (first blank), 307 pp.; 4 ff. (first blank), 280 pp.; 4 ff. (first blank), 187, 16 pp. (Addenda), 2 ff. (last blank). Original buckram (spines very slightly darkened), top edges gilt, others untrimmed, cloth inner hinges as issued (offset onto pastedowns as is true in all copies). Inside the front cover of each volume is affixed the bookplate of John Henry Wrenn (engraved by J.F. Badhey). Beautiful, unopened copy. Near Fine. Item #3258
Edition limited to 120 copies, ours is unnumbered and is preserved is the freshest possible condition, the smooth thick paper bone white and glowingly bright, and the bindings without defect. It is difficult to believe that these five important "reference books" are 100 years old yet have never been read or even opened. If we ever find another set, it could not be better than this one in terms of condition.
This is one of rarest, most significant, and most exacting catalogues of an American private library. John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) was an extremely successful Chicago banker and stock-broker. About 80 percent of Wrenn's superb collection of English literature was supplied by Thomas J. Wise. The library consisted of approximately 6,000 volumes and contained complete, or nearly complete, runs of Pope, Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Goldsmith, and Walpole (to name only a few), as well as fabricated "first" or "pre-first" editions of Ruskin, Tennyson, Browning, and a host of other nineteenth-century authors. As is irrefutably documented in Carter and Pollard's sublime "Enquiry," some of these had been manufactured by Wise in collusion with H. Buxton Forman. More eternally damnable were Wise's sophistications of Restoration and Pre-Restoration plays, with as many as 60 leaves cut out from (formerly) perfect copies belonging to the British Museum. Wise married them with his own imperfect copies and sent them to Zaehsdorf for rebinding; these were sold to Wrenn for a gigantic markup. NB: for the gruesome "body-count" see Foxon's brilliant 1959 study.
In 1918, through the aggressive lobbying of R.H. Griffith (the bibliographer of Pope), the library was purchased from Wrenn’s heirs by Major General George W. Littlefield, of Austin, for $225,000 (a colossal sum in those days), who presented it to the University of Texas. This was the first rare book collection acquired by the University. The present catalogue was compiled by Wrenn’s son and edited, with a preface, by Wise. The descriptions are so detailed and precise that one wonders if the principal author was in fact Wise himself.
¶ See especially Richard Oram's article on Wrenn in DAB, vol. 140, pp. 319-326, with additional references. D.F. Foxon, Thomas J. Wise and the Pre-Restoration Drama: A Study in Theft and Sophistication (1959), passim.