- IV. The Richard S. Weiner Collection
[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]
The Richard S. Weiner Collection at Colgate University in the small town of Hamilton, New York, is a relative newcomer in the world of Shaw collections—and one that many Shaw scholars will want to visit. The collection boasts more than one thousand letters by Shaw as well as a rich assortment of manuscripts, books, photographs, and art work.
The collection is the gift of attorney-turned-bookman Richard Weiner (Colgate ‘68), proprietor of Escargot Books, a book store in Brielle, New Jersey. Two converging impulses led to the creation of the Colgate collection—Weiner’s interest in Shaw and his desire to do something for his alma mater. Weiner describes Colgate as a “wonderful liberal arts college, where professors tried to make subjects come alive for the students.”* Not [End Page 148] interested in “the traditional route, giving money,” Weiner instead “wanted to put together a collection that I could watch grow, be exhibited, and written about during my lifetime.”
With a master’s degree in French from Harvard, a law degree from Penn, and a keen interest in Shaw, whose work he found both amusing and provocative, Weiner began collecting in 1980. Within a few years of his first purchase, a 3 by 5 signed snapshot of an elderly Shaw walking a country lane with hat, cane, and knickers, he had formed the nucleus of his remarkable collection. His initial gift to Colgate in the early 1980’s was followed by substantial additions well into the 1990’s.
Aggressive in his acquisitions, Weiner purchased items on his own as well as through dealers. Weiner recalls that “once it became known that there was a serious buyer in the market, the amount of good material that was offered to me through these dealers was extraordinary. I also believe that my strong commitment to buying quality Shaw items at auction may have discouraged others from bidding against me.” According to Weiner, his desire to acquire things that “the great man had put his hand to” guided his choice of material. First editions, for example, did not excite him; instead he wanted “inscribed books, signed letters and ephemera.” His collecting grew more focused over time: “I made lots of mistakes at first, buying items that I wouldn’t look twice at today. Gradually, I became more knowledgeable and focused. I was less interested in his political and economic views, or in very technical aspects of his theatrical productions, and was more drawn to letters in which this intellectual giant flashed his wit or demonstrated his well-known topsy turvyism.”
Given Weiner’s focus, it is not surprising to find that the correspondence is one of the great strengths of the collection. While some of it will be familiar to scholars through the Collected Letters and other publications, most of it will be new. Given that the collection contains correspondence from Shaw to well over 400 different recipients, any discussion here is necessarily incomplete. Chief among the letters, however, are those from Shaw to Gilbert Murray—nearly fifty written between 1898 and 1950. Subjects covered include Shaw’s plays, Murray’s translations, politics, publishing, WW II, Catholicism, and personal news. Another substantial segment, close to 150 letters and postcards to Charles Macdona between 1912 and 1940, documents Shaw’s relationship with the theatrical producer, providing a detailed look at Shaw’s views on casting, play selection, advertising, programs, film, and play touring.
Letters to a number of significant figures touch on many aspects of Shaw’s work in the theater. Letters to actress Mary Grey and husband J.B. Fagan focus largely on productions of Captain Brassbound’s Conversion and the possibility of a film version. His correspondence with Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson deals chiefly with Saint Joan. Letters to manager Hugh [End Page 149] Beaumont provide details of Shaw’s business agreements and are full of Shaw’s recommendations regarding casting, scenery, and directing. Letters to Nugent Monck, head of the Norwich Players, shed light on Shaw’s relationship with that company. In some cases, as with Macdona and Beaumont, the sizeable quantity of letters...