After 2,000-piece acquisition, USC now has world's largest Hemingway collection

Collection "priceless," has been growing for more than 10 years

After traveling the world, wading through war and wilderness, Ernest Hemingway has found his home at USC. 

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections announced the acquisition of 2,000 pristine works by the renowned 20th-century American writer this week, making USC the holder of the largest published Hemingway collection in the world.

“What this really means is something special for our faculty and for our students,” said Tom McNally, USC’s dean of libraries. “With acquiring this collection we’ve become the biggest source for printed Hemingway resources in the world. For me, when you can say to your students and faculty that we’re offering you the best in the world in a particular research area, I think that’s something we can all be very proud of.”

The collection began to grow in 2001 with the donation of the Speiser and Easterling-Hallman Foundation Collection. The most recent addition is thanks to the part-gift, part-purchase of the C. Edgar Grissom collection. 

In his older age, Grissom wanted to keep his massive and unparalleled private collection together, and he determined USC as the best facility to house his collection of 50 years, according to the Director of Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections Elizabeth Sudduth. Grissom became friends with the Special Collections department while conducting research for his biography on Hemingway, Sudduth said. 

“The appraised value of the collection was in the neighborhood of $635,000,” McNally said. “[Edgar and Julie] Grissoms’ gave a portion of that as a gift and the purchased portion was paid for the by Easterling-Hallman Foundation.” 

Although the collection was appraised before its acquisition, Sudduth believes it’s priceless because of the numerous unique and rare items that has taken 50 years to gather. 

“You could go through and see what each item is worth, but a certain part of its value comes from the fact that it’s all been assembled,” Sudduth explained. “If you started today, with millions of dollars, would you be able to assemble this collection again with pieces in excellent condition? I don’t know. Maybe in another 50 years, but I doubt it.” 

Sudduth said part of the meaning behind the collection is that students and faculty members can look and handle the items for research purposes or simply out of curiosity. Anyone with a “pure heart and clean hands” is allowed to use the works, according to Sudduth.   

“Anyone who comes in and registers, even if you’re not in a class that has anything to do with Hemingway, is more than welcome to come in and look. There are many discoveries to be made because of curiosity and simple interest.”

All told, the collection boasts over 3,000 items, according to Sudduth, part of which can be seen and examined in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library. 

Sudduth said one major significance of the Hemingway collection is the effect it has on the university’s reputation as a destination for modern American literature researchers, collectors and dealers. As a result of this acquisition, USC will come into more collections and pieces, which will further expand an already impressive spread of rare literature, she said. Sudduth has already received several calls from scholars — three have visited — and dealers interested in studying and adding onto the collection. She also believes that it will bring in more graduate students to an already prestigious program.

“We’ve had students base their decision on coming here for graduate school on the material that was here from the Spieser collection,” Sudduth said. “We know that will happen more and more now, and what else will happen is that other people who have collections of other authors will look at us too.

“We’re really in the position to continue to make an incredible collection for Modern American literature.”


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