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  • I. The Dwight V. Strong Collection
  • Charles A. Berst (bio)

[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]

On 22 October 1986 the Los Angeles Times announced, “SHAW LETTERS GONE: 46 Rare Items Missing at Cal State Fullerton.”

Gathered in a scrapbook along with two photographs, a note, and a poem, the letters, twenty in all, were none other than most of Shaw’s lively epistles to Alice Lockett, the frustrating object of his first adult love affair. Their residence at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), where [End Page 137] they were the rarest and most prized of its library’s special collections, had been a phenomenon hardly noticed by the press, but their disappearance made them sensational.

The previous June, special collections librarian Sharon Perry, noticing that several special collection items were missing, inventoried 250,000 others and discovered the Shaw loss in short order. The fact that four months lapsed before this was publicly acknowledged suggests turmoil behind the scenes. Declaring the letters “irreplaceable,” acting head librarian Robert Emry remained baffled: “I don’t even know if they are stolen. It is possible the items are misplaced, but not probable.” He explained that scholars gained access to special collections’ locked quarters only through a library official, so it would be very difficult to slip out with a rare document.

But to slip out with forty-six books, including a scrapbook? . . . Mr. Emry “declined to say” whether the municipal police department had been notified.

Once the cat was out of the bag, however, salvation came rapidly. Just two weeks later, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported that all the missing works had been returned via mail, in good condition, although the university’s name had been erased from each. The campus police captain “declined to say” if the package had a return address or a postmark, but Mr. Emry commented that making the matter public “may have contributed to the works being returned.”

While the disappearance has been resolved, its mystery has not. At least librarian Perry reports it is still a mystery to her, although she has implemented steps to improve security. Meanwhile, this case reflects concerns of many of her counterparts here and abroad: as special collections have become increasingly valuable, effective security for them needs to be sensitively balanced with their convenience for scholars, and scholar-friendly security systems (like this one) deserve warm appreciation.

Cal State Fullerton’s acquisition of the Dwight V. Strong collection was an extraordinary coup for the campus. Distinct from the nine-campus University of California, the huge state university system to which Fullerton belongs does not normally enjoy research status. Yet it has many fine scholars. CSUF, located in northern Orange County southeast of downtown Los Angeles, has over 25,000 students, numerous masters degree programs, and a library enriched by a committed group of patrons.

In 1981, in conjunction with the Patrons of the Library, English Professor June Pollak (now an emerita and president of the Patrons) was instrumental in arranging for the Dwight Strong gift. Strong, the senior vice president of a San Francisco insurance brokerage, had parlayed his attraction to Shaw into a substantial collection of Shavian materials. Now moving on to other interests, he sought an institution that might maintain [End Page 138] these as a coherent unit. Celebrating the gift, Pollak observed that “A beautiful, personal collection is not usually helpful for research at the graduate level. But this one is.”

“Beautiful personal collection” aptly describes this one. Nice to possess and possibly of interest to some CSUF faculty and graduate students, but of marginal use to most Shaw scholars, are seventeen autographed works by Shaw, most of them presentation copies; nineteen proofs/rehearsal copies of his plays; and over four hundred other published items including many first editions, rare editions, a collection of magazine articles, a 1946 Birthday Ode to Shaw (with his comments), a 26 December 1905 Ellen Terry letter to him (not in their published Correspondence), a 1929 Malvern Festival Souvenir Illustrated Program, with forty-three autographs and related pieces, an engraved and autographed portrait of him, and a 1930 newspaper advertisement in which he is addressed as a prominent person, with his autograph rebuttal...

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