6,000-item H.L. Mencken Collection
The Johns Hopkins University has acquired what is believed to be the largest privately held collection of items associated with writer and journalist H.L. Mencken, nearly 6,000 books, articles, letters, photographs and other items amassed over 44 years by an Ohio accountant with a passion for the Sage of Baltimore.
The acquisition of the George H. Thompson Collection by the university's Sheridan Libraries is in part a purchase and in part a gift from Thompson's wife, Betty Thompson, and son, Bradford G. Thompson.
The collection, which more than doubles the university's Mencken-related holdings, will be housed at the George Peabody Library, which already has a significant research collection on Mencken.
Henry Louis Mencken was a Baltimore Sun reporter and columnist who also was one of America's leading literary and social critics in the first half of the 20th century. Born in the city, the cynical freethinker is often remembered as the "Sage of Baltimore."
Thompson, most recently of Cadiz, Ohio, collected Mencken-related material from 1962 until his death last year, working fervently to track down at least one example even of different versions of the same Mencken works.
"He collected all of Mencken's writings in multiple editions, printings, and translations," said Cynthia Requardt, the William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Special Collections at the Sheridan Libraries.
"There are complete issues of magazines in which Mencken articles appeared, letters written by Mencken, photographs, and printed ephemera," she said. "Thompson then branched out and collected books that reprinted Mencken works, mentioned Mencken or were inspired by Mencken."
Thompson's collection was believed to be the largest Mencken-related compilation in private hands, said Mencken scholar Richard J. Schrader, professor of English at Boston College.
"George had a scholar's understanding of Mencken's place in literary culture, so the numerous ancillary works he acquired will be of value to anyone working on the American literature of Mencken's entire lifetime," Schrader said. Thompson assisted Schrader with the 1998 publication of H.L. Mencken: A Descriptive Bibliography.
The Thompson Collection will increase scholarly understanding of Mencken's reception as an author and critic, said Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at Johns Hopkins.
"This is a wonderful complement to the Robert A. Wilson Collection of H. L. Mencken, another superb Mencken collection at the Peabody Library," Tabb said. Donated in 2005 by Johns Hopkins alumnus and trustee Richard S. Frary and his wife Irene, the Wilson collection established the Peabody Library as a significant research resource on Mencken.
"The numerous books and articles collected by Thompson that support or attack Mencken will help scholars assess the impact that one of Baltimore's greatest writers and most influential iconoclasts had on American life and letters," Tabb said.
The Thompson and Wilson collections are shelved together in an alcove devoted to H. L Mencken at the George Peabody Library. As part of the annual Mencken Weekend beginning this year on Saturday, Sept. 15, Requardt will welcome visitors to the library from noon to 2 p.m. that day to view the collection.
"I look forward to the preview of the Thompson Collection," said Sandy Martin, president of the H. L. Mencken Society. Martin said that an item Requardt showed him at last year's opening of the Wilson collection shed new light on Mencken's relationship with his lover Marion Bloom. He said he expects similar revelations from the Thompson Collection.
The Peabody Library is located at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place, in Baltimore's Mount Vernon Cultural District. It is open to the public without charge. For hours and information, visit http://www.georgepeabodylibrary.jhu.edu.
Call (410) 396-5430 or visit www.mencken.org for information about this year's Mencken Weekend, a collaboration among the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Mencken Society, the Maryland Historical Society, the Peabody Opera Theatre, the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries and the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken's Legacy.
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