R. B. Adam II (1863–1940)

Robert Borthwick Adam II of Buffalo, New York, inherited and dramatically expanded the book collection of his uncle, Robert Borthwick Adam I (1833–1904), a native of Scotland who emigrated to the United States in the 1850s and established a successful and respected dry goods business in Buffalo, which he expanded to a major department store. The senior Adam and his wife being childless, they adopted his namesake nephew, then nine, and his sister from Scotland. For both father and son, the main focus of the book collection was Samuel Johnson and his circle, but Adam senior collected other writers, including Robert Burns and Ruskin; and while it was the Johnson collection that earned the Adamses of Buffalo world‐wide fame, Adam II remained committed also to the Burns and Ruskin until about 1923–24 (Loos, “Robert Borthwick Adam II”, 3–5; Hyde, “Adam, Tinker, and Newton”, 287–88, 297).
In the 1920s, Adam II decided to sell his Burns and Ruskin collections, in order to devote his attention solely to Johnson and the eighteenth century. (Tragically, he would be forced by the stock market crash of October 1929 to break up his Johnson collection, as well.) In 1923, he sent the Ruskin collection to the firm of the rare book and manuscript dealer, A. S. W. Rosenbach (1876–1952) in New York. The firm attempted to interest Henry Huntington (1850–1927) in the collection, but it remained unsold for six years, when, in April 1929, Adam retrieved it for presentation to Yale University Library. He donated the collection in memory of his adopted father, who started it, but he also wished to support the efforts by his good friend, Chauncey B. Tinker (1876–1963), to build up the Yale libraryʼs rare books and manuscripts department (Hyde, “Adam, Tinker, and Newton”, 297–98, 304; Hyde, “Adam, Tinker, and Newton, 1909–1948”, 561).
In a 1929 issue of the Yale University Library Gazette, the Adam Ruskin collection was described as constituting “virtually the whole body of Ruskinʼs works, from the earliest to the latest, just as they were first issued: editiones principes literally by the score, rare pamphlets, occasional adddresses, unique copies,—everything that might be needed . . . for the professional scholar bent upon a thorough and serious study in the works of John Ruskin”. The article acknowledged, however, that Adam had previously sold off “some of the rarest items”, including two copies of the Poems (1850), as well as “several autograph letters and manuscripts, which added luster to Mr. Adamʼs library, but had no essential place, perhaps, in the collection that has just been given to Yale”. The article ascribes the sale of these Ruskin items, not to the Rosenbach firm, but to an auction at the Anderson Galleries in February 1926—a major disposal of over 400 lots of non‐Johnsonian materials and some Johnsonian, of which 38 items related to Ruskin, according to the Gazette (French, “The R. B. Adam Collection of Ruskin”, 1, 6; Hyde, “Adam, Tinker, and Newton”, 298). The relation of these offerings in 1926 to what had been turned over to Rosenbach in 1923 is not clear.
Nonetheless, the remaining collection given to Yale was so large that the annual “Report of the Librarian” for 1928–29 reflected difficulty getting a grip on the numbers of items. First listed in the “Report” as consisting of “over three hundred and seventy volumes by and about Ruskin”, elsewhere in the same annual report the gift is numbered at “some 500 volumes and pamphlets”. Six years later, “after an unusual amount of bibliographical study and revision”, another annual “Report” set the total at “464 volumes and 271 pamphlets”, although it is unclear whether these figures refer solely to the Adam bequest (“Report of the Librarian, July 1, 1928–June 30, 1929”, 6, 36–37; “Report of the Librarian, July 1, 1934–June 30, 1935”, 15).
Like Tinker, Adam was generous to scholars who requested access to his collections for research. Johnson scholars in particular benefited from access to and even loan of his possessions, so it is possible that scholars may have taken advantage of Adamʼs Ruskin collection as well, before it came to Yale. Charles Grosvenor Osgood (1871–1964), the literary scholar from Princeton University, visited Adam and lectured on Ruskin in Buffalo; and Tinkerʼs graduate students were granted access to Adamʼs collections as well (see Hyde, “Adam, Tinker, and Newton”, 290–92, 294–96).
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