Sir Tippy’s information jungle

‘Sir Tippy’ came to mind today, so, while I was volunteering at Montreal’s Atwater Library today, I hunted the reference down:

In contrast to the prevailing methods of careful display in public museums, private collectors often have a predisposition to disorder. Clutter appeals to the collector’s sense of discovery. History delivers numerous examples of the overwhelming disorder of private collections. For instance, the Victorian book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps lived in a state of domestic chaos; Sir Thomas, known familiarly as Sir Tippy, vowed to own ‘ONE COPY OF EVERY BOOK IN THE WORLD’ (Muensterberger 74). His vast and largely uncatalogued book collection infiltrated every room in his large country house. As a visitor from the Bodleian Library reported is 1854, ‘Every room is filled with heaps of papers, MSS, books, charters, packages & other things, lying in heaps under your feet, piled upon tables, beds, chairs, ladders, &c.&c. and in every room, piles of huge boxes, up to the ceiling, containing the more valuable volumes!’ (qti in Muensterberger 75). To feed his passion for books, Sir Tippy bought up entire libraries. In the latter part of his career, he purchased waste paper by the ton on the off chance of finding something valuable among loose leaves. In one lot of waste, he located the main part of William Caxton’s Ovid. At his death in 1872 Sir Tippy left what was probably the largest collection of books and manuscripts ever assembled by an individual: 50,000 books and 60,000 manuscripts. (Hepburn 27)

When Allan Hepburn spoke to a class of new MA of English students in the fall of 2008 (I was there), he said that Tippy’s wife and child(ren?) were actually relegated to a sort of annex or outhouse as a result of Phillipps’s hoarding. (My wife and I had a good chuckle when I told her this.) Read more about Tippy over at Wikipedia.

Hepburn, Allan. Enchanted Objects: Visual Art in Contemporary Fiction. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2010.

Muensterberger, Werner. Collecting: An Unruly Passion. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994.

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