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JACK LONDON: About the Collection

 

The Huntington's archive of Jack London's papers, numbering about 60,000 items, is the largest collection in the world and the largest literary archive of personal papers in the library. The collection includes more than 1,000 drafts (sometimes multiple versions, in autograph and/or typescript) and notes for nearly all of London's writings. A notable exception is the autograph manuscript for The Call of the Wild, which London discarded after its first publication.

 

Jack London Collection - Sea Wolf
An unusual copy of Jack London’s novel The Sea-Wolf is the centerpiece of one section of books and manuscripts in the permanent exhibition “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times: Highlights from the Huntington Library."

 

Among the many exceptional literary items are: 

  • The complete autograph manuscripts of Martin Eden and "To Build a Fire"
  • Drafts of Cherry, the incomplete, unpublished novel London was working on when he died
  • Manuscript of The Sea Wolf, a charred  hunk (see photo above) tragically burned in the San Francisco earthquake conflagration of 1906
  • Affectionate letters to Cloudesley Johns and Charmian London
  • Communications with his editors, especially George P. Brett
  • Letters from Jack's beloved step-sister Eliza London Shepard about the Beauty Ranch
  • Correspondence between London and authors such as Mary Austin, Upton Sinclair and George Sterling
  • Additional correspondence covering topics such as socialism, the genesis of story ideas, advice for young writers, etc.
  • Agreements, book contracts, and royalty statements
  •  Magazine printings of London's tales, comic books based on the stories, magazine ads incorporating images from London's works, etc.

 

London's extensive subject file, retained in his own ordering and arrangement, holds hundreds of off-prints and clipped articles that he gathered on topics of interest, ranging from Alaska to yachts and, in between, such topics as copyright, dogs, Jung, Molokai, plots, sea fiction, socialism, trade unionism, and woman. More than a dozen enormous scrapbooks contain thousands of news clippings about London and his works. Approximately 60 "broadsides" include posters, as well as oversize clippings, many covering his days as a war-correspondent in Korea in 1904.

 

One of the most exciting sections of the collection contains about 10,000 photographs, including snapshots, high-quality inter-positives, and contact prints of images from the photograph albums, prepared for reference use and reproduction in order to protect and preserve the fragile albums. Finally, Jack London's personal library of several thousand volumes includes his annotations in some of the books that most influenced him.

 

Related collections in the Huntington Library include the papers of Joan London Miller, George Sterling, Anna Strunsky Walling, Franklin Dickerson Walker, Mary Austin, Joseph Noel, and Donald Barker.

 

History of the London Archive

The acquisition of the London archive began soon after London's death in 1916. In 1924, learning that London's widow Charmian sought an appropriate repository for his papers, and displaying impressive foresight, Henry Huntington dispatched his librarian Leslie Bliss to the Beauty Ranch to examine the papers. Receiving a favorable report, Huntington authorized the purchase of London's literary drafts, which soon arrived in the stacks, to be followed by many more additions over the next 75 years.

 

Additions for the collection are made by purchase and also by gift, due to the extraordinary generosity of Irving Shepard and the Irving Shepard Trust, and of his son I. Milo Shepard. In the mid-1980's, a gift of 130 original photograph albums ensured the preservation of these remarkable images, as historical artifacts and as resources for original research, and in early 2000, Milo Shepard donated files concerning the posthumous publication of London's books.

 

This vast archive continues to grow. Highlights of new acquisitions in the last decade include:

  • A large-format, full-color theater exhibitor's book for The Call of the Wild, showing how the film was used to entice local businesses to advertise in theaters
  • A set of notes for the novel Adventure, to supplement the autograph manuscript of the novel already in the collection
  • A letter by Jack London concerning the story "To Build a Fire," emphasizing the veracity of certain details in the story to a doubting editor at Youth's Companion

In late 1998, the library placed the winning auction bid on a group of 56 letters from Charmian London to Harvey Taylor, dating from 1931-1932, augmenting a large series of similar letters already in the collection that deal with Taylor's friendship with Charmian and his efforts to act as her agent.

 

More recently, the Huntington has purchased two important groups of material, both from private collectors. In early 1999, the library acquired a stunning set of 14 autograph and typewritten letters, 1900-1906, from London to Charles Warren Stoddard, an early editor of the Overland Monthly and the man whose travel books inspired London's voyage on the Snark. Addressed to "Dad," the letters are unusually confiding in tone and reveal many details about London's personal life, including his doubts and fears but also his conviction of his own "right conduct" in separating from his first wife Bess, as well as his comments about his collaboration with Anna Strunsky Walling on The Kempton-Wace Letters.

 

The following year, the library purchased a fine group of 25 letters by Jack and Charmian, to various addressees. Six letters from Jack to Benjamin De Casseres deal with literary matters, and one especially interesting letter from the just-widowed Charmian to the same addressee, dated November 29, 1916, firmly disputes De Casseres' apparent assertion that Jack was now "star-roving" after death. Among this group is also a January 13, 1909, note from Jack to "Miss Goldstein," quoting his famous credo ("I would rather be ashes than dust . . .") and remarking that he had said it seven years before.

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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