1 January 2021 Susannah

Meet A Book Addict – Richard Heber

Richard Heber (1773-1833), book collector,

For 2021 I am starting a new segment of my newsletter – ‘Meet a Book Addict’. I’d like to introduce you to some fellow readers and book collectors from the past and the present.

Richard Heber (1773 – 1833) was an amazing collector. Fortunately, he was born to wealth, so was able to indulge his passion to the full. I’ve always loved this comment that he made: “No gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers.” Heber began collecting books as a child, at first purchasing classical volumes, but soon moving on to early English drama and literature. He invested in rare volumes and became a founder of the Roxburghe Club of Bibliophiles. He was also one of the founders of the Athenaeum Club in London. Heber owned several houses and rapidly filled them with books. He travelled in Europe, buying as he went, and his library overran his homes in England and the Continent.

When Heber died it is thought he was the possessor of nearly 150,000 books, plus a large collection of pamphlets. The books were sold at auction and the sales went on for 216 days.

I do wonder how many of the books he owned Richard Heber actually got to read? He never married and the life of this man seems to have been entirely dedicated to books. I think it would have been fascinating to meet him!

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Featured image credit- Richard Heber, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp02120/richard-heber
Body image credit- Biibliotheca Heberiana. Catalogue of the Library of the late Richard Heber, Esq. Sotheby’s and Son, 1834, https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2020/english-literature-history-childrens-books-and-illustrations/heber-bibliotheca-heberiana-catalogue-of-the

Comments (2)

  1. Miland

    150,000 books, and probably expensively bound ones! It’s an amazing number, but I suppose the equivalent of multi-millionaires today could do it. I wonder whether any such people exist today? As a comparison with an “ordinary” person, one of Britain’s most famous Esperantists, Wiliam Auld left a library of 4,000 items to the National Library of Scotland when he passed on. But I imagine that these would have been all sorts of things.
    In the film “84 Charing Cross road” the chief buyer of Marks & Co, Frank Doel is shown going into stately homes to purchase stock. No doubt they would be after the kind of volumes that Richard Heber would have owned.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That’s such a lovely film about books! Yes, today such a vast number of books would be hideously costly and hard to store, but Richard Heber seemed to have plenty of resources. I love the National Library of Scotland, especially the fabulous John Murray archive. Happy New Year.

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