Friday, June 10th, 2016...9:00 am

William King Richardson, Part I: Diplomas and Certificates

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William King Richardson (1859–1951) was a member of the Harvard College Class of 1880. Just two years later he earned a double first at Balliol College, Oxford University (purportedly the first American to obtain this distinction at Oxford). His library was begun at the Lord Amherst of Hackney sale in 1908. For more than forty years, Richardson had the opportunity and the means to collect printed books and manuscripts of considerable distinction.  He maintained a considerable variety of scholarly interests throughout his life; his library is similarly wide-ranging. Its particular strengths are illuminated manuscripts, illustrated books, and fine bindings. His library also includes 109 incunabula.


A portrait of William King Richardson hangs in Houghton Library surrounded by his collection.

Richardson’s bequest of his library constitutes one of the most important accessions ever given to Harvard College Library. On its receipt in 1951, William Jackson, Librarian of Houghton Library, wrote that “from the beginning Richardson dealt with able and knowledgeable booksellers, whose aid in forming the collection is apparent on every shelf; for many of the books still contain the notes or letters of Martini, Tregaskis, Belin, Goldschmidt, Quaritch, Olschki, Maggs, and Robinson. At most of the great sales of the past forty years he obtained, either directly or soon after, some few treasures. Of these, the Hoe, Huth, Britwell, Mostyn, Phillipps, Beatty, Schiff, Clumber, Mensing, Peckover, and Lothian sales may be mentioned particularly. Many of his books, likewise, contain marks of ownership of the distinguished collectors of earlier generations.” (Harvard Library Bulletin 5 (1951), 328)

A number of projects related to the Richardson collection have begun to take shape this summer.; this is the first of a series of WKR-posts on these projects.  One, undertaken by Noah Sheola and Alicia Bowling, is the entry of data from the Richardson incunables into the Consortium of European Research Library’s Manuscript Evidence in Incunabula (CERL MEI).  A second project is to explore digitally Richardson’s  letters to his mother from Oxford, dated 1881–84, (MS Richardson 51); his letters to his uncle, Roland Lincoln, from Oxford, dated 1880–84, (MS Am 2006); and his travel diaries in various European cities dated 1880-1890 (MS Am 2042).

The present post, however, is dedicated to five documents (AB85.R3966.Zz880w) that were clearly very important to Richardson, namely his diploma from Harvard, and four certificates issued by Oxford University. These never seem to have been accessioned when his library came to Houghton in 1951. Now, after their recent recovery by Ramon Cartwright, Circulation and Preservation Assistant in Houghton Library’s Department of Public Services, they are now properly catalogued and housed.


Richardson’s Harvard diploma, 1880.

Richardson graduated from Harvard on June 30, 1880 and was awarded his degree with highest honors in Classical Languages.  By December 11, 1880, he had already passed his first examination at Oxford.  In Michaelmas term 1881, the first term in the next academic year, Richardson was awarded a First Class in the Honours Moderation, the first set of exams in the Classics degree program.  On May 24, 1882 he passed an exam in religious knowledge.  In Trinity term 1884, the third and final term of the next academic year he achieved another First Class in the final examinations in Classics.



Certificates from Oxford University, 1880 and 1884.

William P. Stoneman, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, contributed this post.

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