Wolfe Papers

, par noreply@blogger.com (P.-F.-X.)

The Globe and Mail reported on Saturday that the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto has acquired a trove of 233 letters written by James Wolfe to his parents between 1740 and 1759. The price ? 1.5 million, which the library managed to raise with the assistance of Helmhorst Investments and the Movable Cultural Property Directorate at Canadian Heritage. Christies brokered the sale for what the Globe describes as an "unidentified British family" — which I presume to be the Warde family, descendants of Wolfe's friend George Warde, who lately have taken steps to divest themselves of several valuable heirlooms. 
A collection of letters written by General James Wolfe to his family is coming to Canada from Great Britain. The University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, the largest academic library in Canada, has acquired the archive for about $1.5-million. (HANDOUT)
Photo : Globe and Mail.

This is a great score for the Fisher Library. Yet two thoughts dampen my enthusiasm somewhat. The first is that the Canadian purchase was made despite efforts to keep the documents in Great Britain. A good overview of this collection's importance as ascertained by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, can be found here. In light of this, Britain’s culture minister imposed a two-month ban on the export, in the hope that a British buyer might come forward to match or exceed the price offered. None was found, and on Sept. 30th the minister approved the removal to Canada. Canada's gain, in this sense, is Britain's loss. Where does a collection of the sort belong ? To whomever has the deepest pockets ? I'm not entirely convinced that this is the best criteria.

The second thought that crossed my mind, speaking of where a collection of the sort might belong : where was Library and Archives Canada in all of this ? Were they approached by Christies ? Did they show any interest ? Did they make any attempt to raise funds for the purchase ? In other words, is the U of T's good news evidence of the ongoing bad news over at LAC ?


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