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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 4, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 1
Johns Hopkins Acquires 6,000-item H.L. Mencken Collection

Thompson treasures enrich already strong holdings in George Peabody Library

By Pamela Higgins
Sheridan Libraries

The Johns Hopkins University has acquired what is believed to be the largest privately held collection of items associated with writer and journalist H.L. Mencken — nearly 6,000 books, articles, letters, photographs and other items amassed over 44 years by an Ohio accountant with a passion for the Sage of Baltimore.

The acquisition of the George H. Thompson Collection by the university's Sheridan Libraries is in part a purchase and in part a gift from Thompson's wife, Betty Thompson, and son, Bradford G. Thompson.

The collection will be housed at the George Peabody Library, which already has a significant research collection on the writer, and will more than double the university's Mencken-related holdings.

Henry Louis Mencken was a Baltimore Sun reporter and columnist who also was one of America's leading literary and social critics in the first half of the 20th century. Born in the city, the cynical freethinker is often remembered as the "Sage of Baltimore."

Thompson, most recently of Cadiz, Ohio, collected Mencken-related material from 1962 until his death last year, working fervently to track down at least one example, even of different versions, of Mencken's works.

"He collected all of Mencken's writings in multiple editions, printings and translations," said Cynthia Requardt, the William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Special Collections at the Sheridan Libraries. "There are complete issues of magazines in which Mencken articles appeared, letters written by Mencken, photographs and printed ephemera," she said. "Thompson then branched out and collected books that reprinted Mencken works, mentioned Mencken or were inspired by Mencken."

Thompson's collection was believed to be the largest Mencken-related compilation in private hands, said Mencken scholar Richard J. Schrader, professor of English at Boston College.

"George had a scholar's understanding of Mencken's place in literary culture, so the numerous ancillary works he acquired will be of value to anyone working on the American literature of Mencken's entire lifetime," Schrader said. Thompson assisted Schrader with the 1998 publication of H.L. Mencken: A Descriptive Bibliography.

Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at Johns Hopkins, said that the Thompson Collection will increase scholarly understanding of Mencken's reception as an author and critic.

"The numerous books and articles collected by Thompson that support or attack Mencken will help scholars assess the impact that one of Baltimore's greatest writers and most influential iconoclasts had on American life and letters," said Tabb, noting that Mencken did research for many of his works at the Peabody Library.

"This is a wonderful complement to the Robert A. Wilson Collection of H.L. Mencken, another superb collection at the Peabody Library," Tabb said. Donated in 2005 by Johns Hopkins alumnus and trustee Richard S. Frary and his wife, Irene, the Wilson Collection established the Peabody Library as a significant research resource on Mencken.

The Wilson Collection, Bradford Thompson said, was an important factor in the decision that he and his mother made in choosing an appropriate home for his father's holdings.

"H.L. Mencken and Baltimore are so closely associated that the city was the ideal home for the collection," Thompson said. "The Peabody Library's previous acquisition of the Wilson Collection laid the groundwork for the library to become — with the larger Thompson Collection — the finest site in the world for further Mencken studies and research. The enthusiasm of Winston Tabb and the staff at the library to acquire, preserve the integrity of the collection as a whole and give it prominent display in the magnificent surroundings of the library certainly made the choice of its final destination an easy one."

The Thompson and Wilson collections are shelved together in an alcove devoted to Mencken.

As part of the annual Mencken Weekend beginning this year on Saturday, Sept. 15, Requardt will welcome visitors to the library from noon to 2 p.m. that day to view the university's new holdings.

Sandy Martin, president of the H.L. Mencken Society, said he is looking forward to the preview of the Thompson Collection. An item Requardt showed him at last year's opening of the Wilson Collection, he said, shed new light on Mencken's relationship with his lover Marion Bloom, and he said he expects similar revelations from the Thompson Collection.

The Peabody Library, located at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place, is open to the public without charge. For hours and other information, go to

The Mencken Weekend is a collaboration of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Mencken Society, Maryland Historical Society, Peabody Opera Theatre, Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries and Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken's Legacy; for information, go to


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