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Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection

The Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection at the British Library contains over 1,500 books, manuscripts, letters, works of art and memorabilia. It is the second largest such collection in the world (after the University of California). The Collection was bequeathed to the British Library in 2003 by Mary, Viscountess Eccles. 

Introduction to the Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection
Printed books and ephemera in the Eccles Collection
Manuscripts and letters in the Eccles Collection
About Lady Eccles
About Oscar Wilde

 Introduction to the Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection (Eccles Collection)

The Eccles Collection comprises three main categories of material:

  • manuscripts
  • printed books
  • ephemera or ‘Wildeana’ (i.e. newspaper cuttings, theatre programmes, posters, leaflets, music scores, LPs and postage stamps).

The Collection began with the acquisition of Wilde’s correspondence with his friend Reginald Turner, but expanded significantly into printed books with the purchase of H. Montgomery Hyde’s Wilde collection in 1962. Later additions came from the libraries of Mortimer L. Schiff and Lord Alfred Douglas, and from Wilde’s bibliographer Christopher Millard (Stuart Mason), his literary executor and friend Robert Ross, and his son Vyvyan Holland.

The provenance of most of the items within the Collection can be traced, largely through manuscript ownership inscriptions and bookplates. Many of the copies in the Collection are those on which Wilde’s bibliographer based his descriptions.

  Printed books and ephemera in the Eccles Collection

Image of the cover of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894)

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx. (London, 1894.) [Eccles 347]. Copyright ©The British Library Board

The printed material in the Collection comprises over 1000 volumes, representing all Wilde’s works and including translations into languages ranging from Armenian to Esperanto. It reflects the large number of editions of Wilde’s works published in Great Britain and abroad following his death, and the many privately-printed pamphlets and unauthorised editions produced as a result of the scandal associated with his name and inadequacies in the international copyright legislation at the time. 

The Collection is rich in author’s presentation and association copies, and includes rare editions with limited print runs, such as Vera; or the Nihilists (1880) [Eccles 353]. Periodicals, such as The Woman’s World [Eccles 416], of which Wilde was the editor, or The Chameleon [Eccles 370], to which he contributed, are also well represented.

The Collection holds a number of works by Wilde’s friends, critics and supporters published over the past century. They include typescripts and marked-up proof copies of works about Wilde and his circle by notable people such as Ellen Terry and Vincent O’Sullivan. Also included are the works and biographies of his family members, and of prominent figures such as Walter Sickert, Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, André Gide, Ernest Dowson, Frank Harris and Arthur Symons. It also contains an extensive collection of material relating to Lord Alfred Douglas, including books and periodical articles by him, and books from his library.

With the generous support of Dr Bill Zachs and The Bay and Paul Foundations, the Collection has been fully catalogued and can be traced on Explore the British Library. Items in the Collection can be identified by the shelfmark prefix: Eccles. Volumes must be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at the Special Materials desks. 

A few of the items have been restricted for conservation reasons: in these cases an alternative copy from the British Library’s collections is usually available.

Image of the cover of Oscar Wilde's Salome

Oscar Wilde, Salome. (London, 1907.) [Eccles 302]. Copyright ©The British Library Board

  Manuscripts and letters in the Eccles Collection

The Eccles Bequest of manuscripts (Additional MSS. 81619-81884) contains the correspondence of Oscar Wilde, his friends, associates and other notable figures, including Lord Alfred Douglas, and complements the existing holdings of Oscar Wilde's manuscripts in the British Library's Manuscript Collections Add. 37943-37948 and 50141 A. B. presented by his executor.

  About Lady Eccles

Born Mary Morley Crapo in Detroit on 12 July 1912, Lady Eccles was a book collector and bibliophile of international repute. She was the first woman to be elected to the Roxburghe Club, and one of the first to join the Grolier Club (New York) of which she was later elected president. Together with her first husband, Donald Hyde (1909-1966), she built up one of the most comprehensive Wilde collections in private hands, as well as one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts relating to Samuel Johnson (now at Harvard College Library). After Donald Hyde’s death, it was her interest in the world of books which brought her into contact with her second husband, Viscount Eccles, Chairman of the British Library from 1973 to 1978. The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the Library was founded by David and Mary Eccles in 1991.

Lady Eccles housed her collection in a purpose-built library at her New Jersey home, Four Oaks Farm, to which she readily granted access to researchers, writers and scholars from all over the world. She contributed important scholarly works on a variety of subjects and generously loaned her items from her collection to exhibitions, including the British Library centenary exhibition Oscar Wilde: a life in six acts (not updated since 2001 – preserved by the UK Web Archive).

  About Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, poet and author. He was one of the most successful dramatists of the late Victorian era whose works continue to be performed and adapted. By virtue of his natural wit and charm, he became one of the greatest celebrities of his age, but this celebrity turned to notoriety in 1895 when he was found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour. On his release from prison he went directly to France, where he died in poverty two years later.


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