The Sadleir Collection is generally regarded to be the world’s finest collection of 19th-century British fiction, assembled by the scholar, collector, connoisseur and bibliomaniac Michael Sadleir (1888-1957).
In 1951, at the urging of English professor Bradford Booth, UCLA purchased the bulk of Sadleir’s collection for $65,000, and over the years it has grown to some 18,000 volumes, comprehensively representing British novelists who wrote between 1750 and 1900. Sadleir did collect well-known fashionable writers like Dickens, Thackeray, Eliot, Bronte and Hardy, but he was always more interested in tracking down the works of authors who, at the time, were considered “minor” such as Ainsworth, Austen, Bulwer Lytton, Chatterton, Disraeli, Edgeworth, Marryat, Meredith, Ouida, and Trollope.
The collection reflects Michael Sadleir’s interest in the materiality of the book—the book as a physical object—rather than in its content. In particular he was fascinated with the structure and “casing” of books, and collected cheap and ephemeral editions mass-produced for the general reading public such as “yellowbacks,” “railway libraries,” and “shilling classics,” as well as important publishers’ bindings.
Sadleir also prized the “wholeness” of intact collections, many of which he was lucky to have been able to acquire, and it may have been for this reason that he placed his collections with academic institutions where he felt their integrity would be preserved: UCLA has Sadleir’s 19th-century fiction, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville owns his Gothic Romance collection, and his Trollope “firsts” are at Princeton.