On the Library Shelves of Reynolda

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On the Library Shelves of Reynolda

By: Alexis Slater, WFU ‘16 | @WakeReynolda
Intrigued by the shelves of books in the historic house library of Reynolda, our Wake Forest University student intern dug into reading at Reynolda for this blog post celebrating National Reading Month.


What is your favorite book? Do you buy books from the bookstore, rent from a library, or download them onto your Kindle? What kind of books would you collect if you had a library all your own?

For those who have walked through the Reynolda House library, you’ve probably wondered what exactly sits on its shelves. Three generations of the Reynolds family lived and breathed in this house and brought with them their favorite books, which they may have have pored over, reading into the wee hours of the night, lost in the endless worlds that writers create (see Charles Babcock’s book plate below). However, there is much more to the content of the library shelves than meets the eye--both figuratively and literally: collections of books from the Reynolds and Babcock families also fill the Reynolda House Archives and the Special Collections & Archives of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University.

Reynolds Era    

Not much survives from the Reynolds-era library. One particularly interesting and beautiful book from this time period that belonged to R.J. Reynolds is titled The Encyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas: Nineteenth Century.

Katharine Smith Reynolds’s personal collection of books was largely practical non-fiction, including titles such as: Rural Life and Education: A Study of the Rural-School Problem as a Phase of the Rural-Life Problem (1914), The Farmer’s Encyclopedia: Farm Animals, Early Arts and Crafts, Gardening for Beginners by E.T. Cook, The Joy of Gardens  (1911) by Lena May McCauley, and Orchids: Their Care and Management (1890). One can just imagine Katharine sitting at the desk in her study and scrutinizing the details of these titles in order to best plan the creation and maintenance of the architecture, gardens, farm, and other aspects of the estate.

Katharine also had books featuring travel recommendations about various cities all over Europe--including a volume on Paris--histories of the United States and of the South and a significant amount of English and American literature.



Some of Katharine’s books, located in the Reynolda House Archives

The Reynolds children’s books, as recorded in the 1922 inventory, were largely children’s adventure and fantasy books. Some highlights include: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and New Arabian Nights by R.L. Stevenson.

When she was only a teenager, Katherine’s daughter Nancy collected first editions. She discovered a particularly expensive one by her favorite author, John Galsworthy, and bought it. Her Uncle Will, who at that time took care of the family’s finances, received the bill and called Nancy about it. In an oral history, Nancy recalled “Uncle Will called me up and he said, ‘Nancy, we’ve got a bill here for a book—eleven dollars.’  And he said, “What kind of book is it that’s so expensive? And I said, ‘Uncle Will, it’s not eleven dollars, it’s eleven hundred dollars.  It’s a first edition.  And he said,” Couldn’t you wait until the second one came out?”

Babcock Era

While books were certainly an important part of Reynolda in its first generation, the Babcock era saw great growth in the home’s collection. Charles Babcock, husband of Mary Reynolds Babcock, was a passionate book collector.


Book plate designed by Fedor Zakhariv

Although he initially started his collection with books he personally enjoyed, authors from the South and from his home state of Indiana, Charlie Babcock adapted more strict collecting practices in the 1930s. He joined the New-York based Grolier Book Club in 1937, an organization that encouraged book collectors and advised them on which books were desirable for forming an enviable collection, releasing specialized lists that members would follow. He began collecting the “100 Books Famous in English Literature,” ultimately gaining 89 of the titles, with 78 of those being first editions. Babcock’s large and impressive collection of books--both from the Grolier 100 and outside of that list--is stored in both the Historic House and in the ZSR Library’s Special Collections department, where you can find first editions of the Nuremberg Chronicles (1493), Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813), Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847), and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859).

Babcock was able to find all of these books in the nooks and crannies of the book universe with the help of Michael Papantonio, a rare books dealer based in New York. Papantonio worked with Babcock from the 1930s until his death in 1967, researching the locations and conditions of various books. It was important to the integrity of the collection that the books be first editions, something difficult to find for many reasons. Often, these antique books had been re-bound during their centuries on earth to prevent fabric bindings from falling apart, leaving them less recognizable as first edition printings. Another potential challenge to finding these books was the manner in which they would have originally been printed. Books like Pride and Prejudice were printed in multiple volumes so that a lending library could send out different sections to multiple people at once. A lending library was one of the most popular ways of obtaining books in 17th-19th century England and America, kind of like a literary ‘Netflix’ where readers could rent out specific books at a time and send them back in return for a new volume.  

“To Contanum” by Henry David Thoreau    


“May Day” by Ralph Waldo Emerson                                                                    


Mary Reynolds was also interested in collecting books, often making suggestions to her husband and certainly reaping the benefits of the large, growing library. It was at her suggestion that Babcock began collecting manuscripts from authors like Thoreau and Emerson. Mary’s favorite book in the collection was the first edition Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, about a British secretary to the admiralty in the 17th century.

Today, the Babcock collection makes up a majority of books on the shelves at Reynolda. The Grolier 100 books and the manuscripts are in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

To learn more about the Historic House book collection, make sure to look a little closer to the library shelves on your next visit to Reynolda. Additionally, check out the upcoming ZSR Special Collections exhibition that features many of the most interesting books from the Babcock collection.


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