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"One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature"


“One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature” at the Lilly Library


“One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature,” one of the most influential rare book exhibitions of the twentieth century, opened in January 1903 at the Grolier Club of the City of New York. The “Grolier Hundred” as it came to be called, drew its titles from a variety of fields including fiction, poetry, drama law and science. It was this exhibition that sparked a keen interest and served as a guide for J.K. Lilly, Jr.’s rare books collection. Lilly used this exhibition catalogue as a shopping list in an attempt to find the first or the earliest attainable editions of these canonized books.


Lilly’s impressive collection of books and manuscripts was donated to Indiana University in the mid-1950s. A member of the Grolier Club until his death, he aimed to amass as many of the “one hundred” as possible during his collecting career. After three decades, he had acquired the first editions of ninety of the hundred, and the earliest obtainable editions of four others.


Today, the Lilly Library holds 99 of the 100 treasures contained on this formidable list. Of those ninety-nine, of special import are Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Westminster, 1477; William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. London, 1623. The Shakespeare “First Folio”; and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. London, 1678. The only missing volume of the “Hundred” is Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur of 1485. It survives in just two copies, both in institutions, and the last copy to appear on the market, which was the copy exhibited in the 1903 Grolier Club show and which is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, was sold in 1911.


“One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature” is on display at the Lilly Library until August 24th. The Lilly Library is located at 1200 E. 7th Street and is open during the following hours:Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 6:00pm and Saturdays from 9:00am – 1:00pm.

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