YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Scholar's Collection Pays Tribute to Shaw : Education: Professor sells his collection of works by and about the famed Irish dramatist and critic to Brown University.


PASADENA — Though the two men never met, Sidney P. Albert and George Bernard Shaw are now linked for posterity--their names separated only by a hyphen.

Last spring, Brown University's John Hay Library in Providence, R.I., contracted with Albert, 78, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Cal State Los Angeles, to buy his collection of scholarly works on the illustrious Irish dramatist and critic.

The Sidney P. Albert-G. B. Shaw Collection, as it's officially called, is now open to the public, even though the library is still working on the catalogue and Albert retains a few of the promised items in his Pasadena home while completing a book on Shaw's play "Major Barbara."

Gathered over 35 years, the collection filled 55 large cartons. It includes more than 2,000 books by and about Shaw and artifacts as diverse as "rough proof" rehearsal copies--prepared by Shaw for actors--posters, recordings, press clippings, photos of Shaw's visit to Hollywood in 1933, publications of international Shaw societies and more than 90 letters, many in Shaw's own hand. There's even a portion of a handwritten musical score and some books that bear his inscription.

Amassing the thousands of items was a labor of love that Albert, who lived on an academic's salary, could only afford bit by bit, seeking bargains now and then from dealers in rare books and at auction houses--Sotheby's in London and Beverly Hills, and Christie's in New York.

"I didn't have a lot of money, so I made use of my knowledge of Shaw," he said. "For example, one book I found was inscribed by Shaw to Florence Emery. I happened to know that she was Florence Farr--an actress with whom Shaw was very much involved. If the bookseller had known, it would have cost a lot more."

Years ago a "fairly good" Shaw letter could be purchased for about $100," Albert said. "Now, they're over 10 times that much." Over the years, Albert says, he paid under $100,000 for the treasured pieces.

Shaw, one of the giants of modern English literature, was born in 1856 and wrote into his 90s, leaving a vast body of material for collectors. He was so prolific, Albert said, that a two-volume bibliography of his work, completed in 1983, took 30 years to compile. Many universities maintain Shaw collections.

Neither the university nor Albert would disclose the purchase price, but Albert's collection is regarded more highly for its scholastic content than its dollar value.

"I don't think it would be an enormous amount of money," said Alan Jutzi, chief curator of rare books at the Huntington Library in San Marino, who once examined a catalogue of its contents. "It has no great collector's items or first editions. Its value lies in its outstanding scholarly research (material). It's a tremendous collection."

When Albert began purchasing items during a sabbatical in London in 1964-65, he didn't have collecting in mind. He was simply buying some material for the research papers he wrote as an academician.

"It was just part of becoming a Shaw scholar," he said.

But he soon began to find collecting exciting. "You gain something that's precious, and that motivates you to look for more. Collecting gets to be something like an addiction," he said. Then, increasingly, his motive became that of building a scholar's collection for other students of Shaw.

Officials at Brown are delighted with the purchase. "It's already been used in a class on Shaw," said Jennifer Lee, curator of printed books at Brown's John Hay Library. "It includes a great deal of secondary sources about Shaw's work and his confreres. It's enabled us to expand the curriculum, since Shaw is so important to the history of the theater."

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., and a graduate of Syracuse University, Albert was as much interested in theater as in philosophy. At Yale University, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1939, he became "infected with drama" by his roommate, who was at the university's drama school.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Albert taught philosophy and studied drama in the East and Midwest for the next decade, almost earning a second doctorate in drama. In 1956, he received an appointment in philosophy at Cal State L.A. (then Los Angeles State College), which eventually allowed him to teach in both fields. Thus Albert came to focus on Shaw, whose combination of theater and philosophy he had been seeking in his own life.

Shaw used comedy, Albert explained, to make provocative and difficult ideas more palatable to audiences.

For example, in the play "Man and Superman," Albert said, "Shaw expounds the doctrine of creative evolution," proposing that the universe is an evolving one with the prospect that humans will develop into a higher species--supermen with the potential of becoming gods.

Los Angeles Times Articles