James S Copley’s Rare Book Collection



2015-06-26 11:06:03

James S Copley’s Rare Book Collection was one of the largest book collections in the world, owned by the late news editor. James S Copley

James Strohn Copley (1917-1973) was an American journalist, newspaper chief and bibliophile.

From 1947 until his death he published the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper.

Copley described himself as "unabashedly conservative, Republican and pro-American".

Rare book collection

Copley’s remarkable trove of original books and manuscripts was assembled during the 1960s and 1970s, regarded as the golden age of manuscript collection.

Containing over 2000 pieces, Copley’s collection was almost certainly unmatched by any other private collection in the world on account of the size and rarity of the items it contained.

Much of the collection documents early and modern American history, including handwritten letters from the earliest incursions of Jesuit missionaries into California, and papers relating to Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry.

There is a large amount of information a relating to America's first three Presidents: George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Also included is a letter from Abraham Lincoln to General McClellan instructing him to either attack Richmond or return to defend Washington during the American Civil War.

There is also an archive of letters sent by General (and later President) Eisenhower to his wife from the battlefields of Europe during World War II.

Arguably, the highlight is the autograph of Button Gwinnett, the Holy Grail of American autographs. Of all those who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Gwinnett’s is the hardest signature to acquire.

Copley's collection was eclectic, including authors, scientists, and musicians as diverse as Charlotte Brontë, Albert Einstein, Tchaikovsky, Emily Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, James Joyce, Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison.

The Copley collection was described by David Redden of Sotheby’s as being of “a scale that can likely never again be achieved by a private collector”.


Since April 2010, the Copley Collection has been gradually sold in a series of auctions. The entire collection is valued at more than $15,000,000.

On 14th April 2010, the signature of Button Gwinnett sold for $722,500, at Sotheby’s, New York.

On the 17th June 2010, a broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence sold for $572,500.

The first four auctions of Copley's collection (the most recent being the June 2010 sale) realised a total of $7,146,231.

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