A  Passion for Books

(left to right) Junius. Stat nominus umbra (1813). Red morocco binding with gold and blind stamping, Fanny Burney, Evelina or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1910), George Cruickshank, George Cruickshank’s Omnibus (1842). Shows autographed letter by Cruickshank.
Fanny Burney, Cecilia, or Memoirs of a Heiress (1782). 5v.

The late Emily McWhinney leaves an important and extensive collection to SFU 

by Eric Swanick
Photography by RAYMOND LUM
Emily McWhinney

Emily McWhinney was an avid and substantial book collector, one of the few female collectors of her generation. When I edited the only Canadian book on book collecting, The Book Disease: Atlantic Provinces Book Collectors (1996), I was unable to identify a single significant female collector in Atlantic Canada.

Several years ago, collector Mary Hyde Eccles wrote that, “a serious collector on any scale must have three advantages: considerable resources, education and freedom. Until recently, only a handful of women have had all three, but times are a changing” (Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books).

Emily McWhinney had all three. She was born in Berlin in 1925, and with her family fled Nazi Germany, arriving in Quebec City in 1938. In Canada she studied economics at the undergraduate level followed by graduate studies in London, England, and New Haven, Connecticut. She was one of the first women to practise before the Montreal, Toronto, and New York stock exchanges with Nesbitt Thompson (now BMO Nesbitt Burns). She married Ted McWhinney (SFU professor emeritus, international jurist, and former Member of Parliament) in 1951. When she died in 2011 Professor McWhinney donated her 2,600 volumes to SFU Special Collections, the richest book donation to a B.C. public institution in many years.

The collecting started innocently (all collecting starts that way). In a March 1969 Montreal Gazette interview McWhinney stated, “I didn’t intend to start a library when I began a personal reading program several years ago, I just wanted to learn more about 18th-century art and antiques.” She began to buy books, and soon “it was almost inevitable that what had been a stimulating interest for me turned into an even more stimulating hobby.”

H.M. Rathbone, So Much of the Diary of Lady Willoughby, 3rd ed. (1845).
Fanny Burney, Evelina or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1898).

A local bookseller recommended she start collecting with a diary, and in the process she began to collect the works of English novelist and diarist Fanny Burney of whom she acquired Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782). More Burney acquisitions followed as McWhinney acquired an 1893 two-volume set of Evelina or the History of a Young Woman’s Entrance into the World and an 1898 version bound in beautiful red buckram by the famous English bindery, Bayntun-Riviere.

One of the earliest imprints in McWhinney’s collection is the 1659 edition of Miscellany of Sundry Essayes, Paradoxes by Francis Osborne. She had imprints from each subsequent century, many of which were primarily literary supplemented with historical volumes.

The collection is rich in 19th- and 20th-century volumes. George Cruikshank (who illustrated many books by Charles Dickens) is well represented with, among others, Four Rare Etchings by the Celebrated George Cruikshank (1876) and George Cruikshank’s Omnibus (1842). The Omnibus contains more than 100 engravings on steel and wood. But it also contains a letter signed by Cruikshank, plus the bookplates of two previous owners. The collection has several wonderful associations, including one book with the bookplate of a former Lord Mayor of London.

The marvellous illustrator Arthur Rackham is represented by several books, including Cendrillon (circa 1919). Rackham’s illustrations for this book are primarily silhouettes. Another of the many Rackham illustrated volumes is Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1929), printed in a limited run of 575 copies and signed by Rackham himself.

One early imprint significant for 19th-century printing is So Much of the Diary of Lady Willoughby as Relates to Her Domestic History (1845). This work was innovative for the period with the use of Caslon type, printed in the 18th-century manner with old-style spelling and punctuation. An earlier 19th-century work, Junius. Stat nominus umbra (1813), has a beautiful fore-edge painting of Arundel Castle in England.

Junius. Stat nominus umbra (1813). Fore-edge painting of Arundel Castle.
Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield. (1929).
Cendrillon. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1919?).
A selection of four books from McWhinney’s Edward Gorey collection.

The latter part of the 19th century witnessed a birth in the art nouveau book, and McWhinney bought seriously from this period. Her collection held the complete runs of the periodicals The Yellow Book and The Savoy, both wonderful examples of that style. Aubrey Beardsley, the illustrator, is represented, as is Oscar Wilde, with a first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).

The 20th-century collection is also very rich with many volumes from H. E. Bates, W. H. Auden, D. H. Lawrence, and some American authors, including Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Sinclair Lewis. The edition of Graham Greene’s May We Borrow Your Husband? And Other Comedies of the Sexual Life (1967) is number 439 of 500 and signed by Greene. Greene also signed the copy of The Quiet American (1955).

McWhinney’s collection of illustrated works includes books and ephemera illustrated by Edward Gorey (you may remember his illustrations from the Mystery television series on PBS). Her children’s collection includes various imprints of The Wind in the Willows, The House at Pooh Corner, and an extensive collection of books illustrated by Mitsumasa Anno including titles such as Anno’s Hat Tricks (1985), Anno’s Magical ABC (1981), and Anno’s Counting House (1982). McWhinney also had a large collection of books illustrated and bound by Hugh Thomson, all identifiable by their distinctive bindings.

During her lifetime McWhinney added many books on the subject of collecting: David Randall’s Dukedom Large Enough (1969); a biography of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, the greatest book dealer of the 20th century; and some by popular writers of this genre in the 1920s and 30s, including books by A. Edward Newton, Christopher Morley, and John Winterich.

Later she added the popular book collecting writings of John Carter, Helen Hanff, and Nicholas Basbanes. Her collection included books on publishing as well as biographies, bibliographies, and the letters of various authors whom she collected.

To view the collection to date (not yet completely catalogued) use the phrase “Emily McWhinney Collection” to search the library’s online catalogue at www.lib.sfu.ca. An exhibition (selective) of McWhinney books will take place in Special Collections in mid-November. Watch for an announcement on the library’s website.