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.
The collection will be housed at the George Peabody
Library, which already has a significant
research collection on the writer, and will more than
double the university's Mencken-related holdings.
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
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
"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.
Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at
Johns Hopkins, said that the Thompson
Collection will increase scholarly understanding of
Mencken's reception as an author and critic.
"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," said Tabb,
noting that Mencken did research for many
of his works at the Peabody Library.
"This is a wonderful complement to the Robert A.
Wilson Collection of H.L. Mencken, another
superb 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 Wilson Collection, Bradford Thompson said, was an
important factor in the decision that he
and his mother made in choosing an appropriate home for his
"H.L. Mencken and Baltimore are so closely associated
that the city was the ideal home for the
collection," Thompson said. "The Peabody Library's previous
acquisition of the Wilson Collection laid
the groundwork for the library to become — with the
larger Thompson Collection — the finest site in the
world for further Mencken studies and research. The
enthusiasm of Winston Tabb and the staff at
the library to acquire, preserve the integrity of the
collection as a whole and give it prominent display
in the magnificent surroundings of the library certainly
made the choice of its final destination an
The Thompson and Wilson collections are shelved
together in an alcove devoted to Mencken.
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 university's new holdings.
Sandy Martin, president of the H.L. Mencken Society,
said he is looking forward to the preview
of the Thompson Collection. An item Requardt showed him at
last year's opening of the Wilson
Collection, he said, shed new light on Mencken's
relationship with his lover Marion Bloom, and he said
he expects similar revelations from the Thompson
The Peabody Library, located at 17 E. Mount Vernon
Place, is open to the public without charge.
For hours and other information, go to
The Mencken Weekend is a collaboration of the Enoch
Pratt Free Library, Mencken Society,
Maryland Historical Society, Peabody Opera Theatre, Johns
Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries
and Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken's Legacy; for
information, go to