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TABLE OF CONTENTS


Scope and Contents

Restrictions

Index Terms

Related Material

Administrative Information

Sources:

Description of Series

Series I. Business and Administration, 1947-1964

Series II. Correspondence, 1947-1963

Series III. Legal, 1963-1968

Series IV. Publicity and Documentation of Silver Library Sale, 1963-1964

Index

University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

John Fleming:

An Inventory of His Papers in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Center



Creator: Fleming, John Francis, 1910-1987
Title: John Fleming Papers
Dates: 1947-1968
Abstract: The materials in the John Fleming Papers (1947-1968) document rare book and manuscript dealer John Fleming's business relationship with book collector Louis H. Silver and Fleming's lawsuit against Silver estate executor Clarence A. Beutel. The Papers include business and administrative records, correspondence, legal documentation, and publicity materials related to the 1968 case John F. Fleming, Incorporated v. Beutel (395 F.2d 21).
Catalog Record #: Manuscript Collection MS-1417
Extent: 4 boxes (1.67 linear feet)
Language: English
Repository: The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Biographical Sketch

John Francis Fleming was born in 1910 and grew up in New York City. He got his start in the book business when he was fifteen as a clerk for the renowned "Napoleon of Books," A. S. W. Rosenbach. Rosenbach was Fleming's patron and mentor. Fleming worked his way up in Rosenbach's company, ascending from clerk to manager to vice president. After Rosenbach's death in 1952, many considered Fleming to be his successor.

Indeed, Fleming dominated the book collecting world, known for both his personal collection and for selling and acquiring books for notable collectors in the United States and Europe. Fleming founded and was the president of the John F. Fleming Rare Book Company (earlier John F. Fleming, Incorporated). One of Fleming's notable clients was Louis H. Silver. Silver was a lawyer in Chicago and the president of Gold Coast Hotels. Over the course of sixteen years, Fleming helped Silver build up his personal library. In June of 1963, Silver was diagnosed with terminal cancer and enlisted Fleming's help in selling his substantial library. Silver had very specific demands for the sale—his library was to be sold en bloc and he should receive no less than $2.2 million for it. Fleming made contact with several auction houses, but on October 27, 1963 Silver died before any action towards a sale could be completed. Silver's estate, represented by Clarence A. Beutel and Silver's wife Amy, wanted the search for a buyer to continue according to Silver's specifications.

On November 15, 1963, the University of Texas at Austin expressed interest in the collection. Fleming began negotiations with Dr. Harry Ransom, Chancellor of the University of Texas at Austin. Within a month, Ransom had $2.75 million in cash for the sale. Silver's estate, though, was feeling hesitant about the sale. The first problem was that they did not want to pay Fleming his $200,000 commission. The second was that they felt pressured to keep the Silver Library in Illinois by selling it to the Newberry Library instead. In the end, that is what the estate chose to do. On May 13, 1964 the Newberry Library bought the Silver Library for $2.75 million.

Under Illinois law, Fleming, as a property broker, should have earned his commission when he produced a ready, willing, and able buyer. There is no requirement that a sale with that buyer must occur. Since Fleming produced his buyer, he requested his commission. When the Silver estate refused, Fleming filed a lawsuit in Illinois on August 6, 1964. The estate was granted summary judgment and the case was dismissed. The court found that since many of the books were damaged and the University of Texas did not examine the books prior to agreeing to buy them, it would not have actually been willing to commit to the sale. Fleming appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In John F. Fleming, Incorporated v. Beutel (395 F.2d 21), the appellate court remanded the case after finding that the lower court was incorrect in granting summary judgment. The appellate court ruled that when one was dealing with older books, some damage was par for the course, and so the buyer would have been willing to go through with the sale. However, rather than continue the court battle, Fleming settled out of court for $92,000 on December 17, 1968.

The Newberry Library took possession of the Silver Library, and, against Silver's wishes, discarded one third of the books as surplus and auctioned them. Fleming continued to acquire and sell books and was particularly known as one of the best dealers of antiquarian manuscripts. He died on December 20, 1987.

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Scope and Contents

Ranging in date from 1947 to 1968, the materials in the John Fleming Papers document Fleming's business relationship with book collector Louis H. Silver and Fleming's lawsuit against Silver estate executor Clarence A. Beutel. The majority of the legal documentation relates to the 1968 case, John F. Fleming, Incorporated v. Beutel (395 F.2d 21)—Fleming's appeal following an initial summary judgment decision at the district court level.

The Papers are divided into four series: I. Business and Administrative, 1947-1964; II. Correspondence, 1947-1963; III. Legal, 1964-1968; and IV. Publicity and Documentation of Silver Library Sale, 1963-1964. The series are arranged according to size, beginning with the largest. The Business and Administrative series is further separated into sub-series, arranged according to volume of material. Files within the other series are arranged chronologically.

The Papers consist solely of textual materials of several types: correspondence (between Fleming and Silver, between Fleming and Amy Silver, between Fleming and his lawyers, between Fleming and auction houses), inventories of books (checklists of incunabula and special bindings from the Silver Library, Fleming's lists of "Imperfect Books" from Silver's collection, packing case lists from the transfer of Silver's Library to the American National Bank and Trust Co. upon Silver's death), bills (most addressed to Silver), auction house proposals (from Sotheby's, Parke-Bernet, and Marlborough), handwritten notes (from Fleming and Silver), legal records from Fleming's suit (probate records, depositions of Fleming, Harry Ransom, and W. W. Heath, affidavits, documents filed with the courts, exhibits), and newspaper clippings (from the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many other publications, gathered by a clipping service). The majority of the records are original, though some carbon copies are also present. The files originally followed a chronological arrangement (rather than arrangement by subject or form), with each folder containing a wide variety of document types. This variety is most apparent within the Legal series, where just one folder contains judicial opinions, billing information, and correspondence with Fleming's lawyer, Sheldon Karon.

Subjects documented in the Papers include (but are not limited to) the business personae of Fleming and Silver and the relationship between the two bibliophiles, legal opinions regarding the awarding of commissions for property sales (specifically books), rare book collecting and rare book collection sales, the history of the Harry Ransom Center during Ransom's tenure as Director, and the persona of Ransom as a curator of archival acquisitions. In addition to Fleming, other figures frequently mentioned in the Papers include: Louis Silver, Amy Silver, Sheldon Karon, Clarence Beutel, Harry Ransom, W. W. Heath, and Lionel Robinson.

Series I., Business and Administrative, 1947–1964, documents financial transactions and correspondence between Fleming and Silver, the contents and value of Silver's Library, and the role of auction houses in Fleming's endeavors to locate a buyer for the Library.

Series II., Correspondence, 1947–1963, includes incoming and copies of outgoing correspondence related to Fleming's business and relationship with the Silver family.

Series III., Legal, 1964–1968, undated, contains legal records detailing the sequence of events in John F. Fleming, Incorporated v. Beutel and Fleming's involvement in the proceedings.

Series IV., Publicity and Documentation of Silver Library Sale, 1963–1964, consists of newspaper and magazine clippings from the days following the sale to the Newberry Library and copies and drafts of records Fleming gathered to document his actions regarding Silver's Library.

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Restrictions

Access:

Open for research

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Index Terms

People
Karon, Sheldon
Ransom, Harry Huntt, 1908-1976
Silver, Amy
Silver, Louis H.
Zucker, Harry T.
Organizations
John F. Fleming, Incorporated
Rosenbach Company
Subjects
Bibliography
Book collecting--United States--History--20th century
Lawsuits
Litigation
Rare books
Document Types
Bibliographies
Financial Records
Handwritten Notes
Legal Documents
Letters
Memorandums
Newspaper Clippings
Postcards
Telegrams

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Related Material

The Grolier Club Library in New York City houses the John F. Fleming, Incorporated Records (1955–1988), which consists of 46 boxes and 2 ledgers. The Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois, houses Louis H. Silver's library, the sale of which is discussed within these materials

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Administrative Information

Acquisition:

Gift, 1982 (G1310)

Processed by:

Christine George, Stephanie Nestor, and Wendy Hagenmier, 2011

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Sources:

Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (New York: H. Holt and Co., 1995).

"John Fleming, A Book Dealer, Dies at Age 77,"  New York Times, 21 December 1987.

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Container List

 

Series I. Business and Administration, 1947-1964

Subseries A. Finances, 1947-1962, undated
Bills from Rosenbach Company to Silver
Container
1.1 1947-1949
Container
1.2 1949-1952
Container
1.3 1950
Container
1.4 1951
Bills, Correspondence and bills from Rosenbach to Silver
Container
1.5 1954-1955
Container
1.6 1956
Container
1.7 1957
Bills, Bills from Rosenbach Company to Silver
Container
1.8 1958
Container
1.9 1960
Container
1.10 1961
Container
1.11 Loans, shipping receipts, records of Silver's 1959 loan to Fleming, 1955-1960
Container
1.12 Sales; bills, bibliographic descriptions, sales records, 1954-1962
Subseries B. Silver Library Notes and Lists, 1957, undated
Container
1.13 Estimates and duplicates, undated
Container
1.14 Duplicates but finer copies, undated
Container
1.15 Packing list, undated
Container
1.16 Checklist of Incunabula, manuscripts, bindings; lists of incunabula, fifteenth-century editions, bindings, manuscripts
Container
1.17 Imperfect books, 1957
Subseries C. Auction House Correspondence, 1963
Container
1.18 Sotheby, Parke-Bernet, Marlborough; correspondence with auction houses, proposals to manage Silver Library sale, 1963

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Series II. Correspondence, 1947-1963

Container
2.1 1947-1948
Container
2.2 1949
Container
2.3 1950
Container
2.4 1951
Container
2.5 1952-1953
Container
2.6 1954-1956
Container
2.7 1957
Container
2.8 1958
Container
2.9 1959
Container
2.10 1960
Container
2.11 1961-1963

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Series III. Legal, 1963-1968

Container
3.1 Deposition, correspondence, handwritten notes, 1963-1964
Container
3.2 Correction to deposition, undated
Container
3.3 Correspondence, memos, affidavit, handwritten notes, complaint, financial documents, documents filed in court, retainer agreement, 1964
Container
3.4 Depositions,1964
Container
3.5 Correspondence, bibliography, memos, legal agreement, telegram, and travel authorization, 1964-1965
Container
3.6 Correspondence, newspaper clippings, legal notice, bibliography, court order, motion for summary judgment, memo, and affidavit, 1965
Container
3.7 Deposition, 1966
Container
4.1-3 Ransom Exhibits; bibliographic descriptions of Silver Library contents, used as exhibits, 1965
Container
4.4 Correspondence, 1966
Container
4.5 Silver Lawsuit; Notice with Interrogatories, Memorandum of Opinion and Order, bills, and correspondence, 1967-1968
Container
4.6 Briefs in Support and Opposition of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Opinion and Order for John F. Fleming, Incorporated v. Beutel, 1968

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Series IV. Publicity and Documentation of Silver Library Sale, 1963-1964

Container
4.7 Documentation of Silver Library Sale; collected copies and originals of correspondence, memos, contract drafts, bills, and notes, 1963-1964
Container
4.8 Publicity; news clippings about Silver Library sale, from U.S. and UK publications, 1964

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 Index of Correspondents 

  • Allen, Francis A. -- 2.7
  • Argentieri, G. -- 2.9
  • Avery, Emmett Langdon -- 2.11
  • Babb, James T. -- 2.2
  • Beutel, Clarence A. -- 3.3
  • Burke, William J. -- 3.3, 4.6
  • Carlstrand, Elinor M. -- 2.4-5, 2.8
  • Carter, John -- 1.18
  • Chiesa, Carlo Alberto dalla -- 2.9
  • Cohen, Gerson D. (Gerson David) -- 2.6
  • Des Graz, C. C. -- 2.3
  • Duane, Tanya S. -- 3.3
  • Dring, E. M. -- 2.6
  • Edelson, Mitchell -- 3.3, 3.5, 4.6
  • Esmerian, R. -- 2.3
  • Feldman, Leon -- 3.3
  • Fischer, Hubert -- 1.18
  • Foxon, David Fairweather -- 2.11
  • Fussler, Herman Howe -- 2.8
  • Goldschmidt, Lucien -- 2.7
  • Goodwin, Mary -- 4.6
  • Hamlin, John F. -- 2.6
  • Heath, W. W. -- 3.6
  • Houghten, Arthur A. -- 2.2
  • Hudspeth, Francis H. -- 3.3, 3.5, 4.6
  • Jackson, William A. -- 3.3
  • Joachim, Harold -- 3.3
  • Kaak, Irmgard A. -- 3.3
  • Karon, Sheldon -- 3.3, 3.6, 4.4-5
  • Kopacz, Lorry -- 3.3, 3.6
  • Koven, Howard R. -- 3.3
  • Kraus, Hans P. -- 3.1
  • Leslie, Shane -- 2.8
  • Levi, Edward H. (Edward Hirsch) -- 2.7
  • Marion, _____ -- 1.18
  • McCarthy Jr., William H. -- 2.2-4
  • Miner, Dorothy -- 2.7
  • Metzdorf, Robert F. (Robert Frederic) -- 1.18, 3.6
  • Muir, Pery -- 2.11
  • Nau, Arthur -- 2.10
  • Nixon, H. M. -- 2.11
  • Paris, J. F. -- 2.10
  • Ransom, Harry Huntt -- 3.1, 3.5-6, 4.6
  • Reuben, Don -- 3.3
  • Rosenbach, Philip Hyman -- 2.2-3
  • Rosenwald, Lessing Julius -- 2.11
  • Schab, William H. -- 2.6
  • Sears, Caroline -- 2.7
  • Shapiro, S. R. -- 2.8
  • Silver, Amy -- 2.1-4, 2.6-8, 2.10-11
  • Silver, Carol -- 2.3, 2.6
  • Silver, Loretta -- 2.4
  • Silver, Louis H. -- 1.1, 2.1-11, 3.3, 4.6
  • Solis-Cohen, _____ -- 2.5
  • Spitalli, Joseph A. -- 4.5
  • Stern, John N. -- 3.3, 3.5
  • Stocum, C. M. -- 2.5
  • Turner, Justin G. -- 2.3
  • Vandegrift, Mary -- 1.18
  • Van Eerde, Bruce -- 3.3
  • Waldrep, Burnell -- 3.5, 4.6
  • Wilson, Glen W. -- 4.6
  • Zucker, Breker -- 3.3
  • Zucker, Harry T. -- 1.18, 3.3, 3.6, 4.6

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