Tracy W. McGregor diary entry, 1925. Courtesy Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

Tracy W. McGregor, Diary entry, 20 September 1925. Courtesy Tracy W. McGregor Papers, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

McGregor as Collector

Tracy W. McGregor was introduced to the world of rare books during a visit to the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. McGregor had sought advice from history professor Claude H. Van Tyne on building a layman’s library of American history. But Van Tyne, aided by librarian Randolph G. Adams, shrewdly showed McGregor that someone of his wealth could, as Clements had, build a world-class collection of rare Americana. Over the next decade, with Adams as a mentor, McGregor acquired some 5,000 rare books, maps, and manuscripts comparable in scope and quality to those in the Clements Library.

Hattie E. Burdette, Original pencil sketch for McGregor bookplate, 1933.

Hattie E. Burdette, Original pencil sketch for McGregor bookplate, 1933.  Original McGregor Library (MSS 11263)

In 1931 Tracy W. McGregor moved his primary residence—and his library—from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Two years later he engaged local artist Hattie E. Burdette to design a personal bookplate. A school of cod occupies the foreground, while a caravel sails into the distance.

Detail from John Smith, New England, [ca. 1635]

Detail from John Smith, New England ... London: Printed by Iames Reeue, [ca. 1635]  Original McGregor Library (Area Table 74 1616 Smith 1635) View online

Burdette modeled the artwork after details engraved on John Smith’s 1635 map of New England.

A. N. McDonald, Proof engraving of McGregor bookplate, 1933.

A. N. McDonald, Proof engraving of McGregor bookplate, 1933.  Original McGregor Library (MSS 11263)

Noted engraver A. N. McDonald prepared the printing plate from Burdette’s sketch. All McGregor Library acquisitions receive this bookplate.

Tracy W. McGregor, Library accession book, 1933-1936.

Tracy W. McGregor, Library accession book, 1933-1936. Original McGregor Library (MSS 11263-f)

Tracy W. McGregor’s papers—divided between the University of Virginia and the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University—contain extensive book acquisition records dating back to the early 1920s. By 1931 McGregor had three assistants managing his burgeoning library. They logged all acquisitions in this accession book. These pages for June and July 1933 record, among other acquisitions, McGregor’s second largest bulk purchase, exceeded only by the 2,100-item Mather Collection. Noted collector Thomas W. Streeter had consigned his rare Americana to bookseller Lathrop C. Harper, the leading U. S. dealer in the field. Harper had been advising McGregor since 1929 and offered him first choice of the Streeter books. McGregor selected seventy-one of the best items, receiving a 30% discount on his $26,440 purchase. The most expensive book was the 1649 Cambridge Platform. As luck would have it, McGregor soon acquired a second, finer copy (displayed in this exhibition) with the Mather Collection.

A. S. W. Rosenbach, Telegram, 19 April 1935.

A. S. W. RosenbachLetter to Tracy W. McGregor, 22 March 1935, and Telegram, 19 April 1935.  Original McGregor Library (MSS 11263)

Many of Tracy W. McGregor’s prize acquisitions were obtained at auction, including his fine copy of the 1661-1663 Eliot Indian Bible—the first Bible printed in North America. When the John B. Stetson copy came up for auction in 1935, famed bookseller A. S. W. Rosenbach wasted no time seeking McGregor’s business. In response to Rosenbach’s prompting, McGregor authorized him to bid on four lots. McGregor succeeded in buying three, including the Eliot Indian Bible at $2,400 plus Rosenbach’s 10% commission.