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Rare Books

Rare Book Division
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Curator of Rare Books

In London, during the 1850s, Richard Wagner noted British esteem for Handel: "...the feeling among the audience that an evening spent in listening to an oratorio may be regarded as a sort of service, and is almost as good as going to chuch. Every one in the audience holds a Handel piano score in the same way as one holds a prayer book in church."

In 1974 Princeton was able to purchase the James S. Hall Handel collection, which consists of 325 contemporary music scores as well as 43 librettos and related material, about half of which are contemporary with Handel himself. Various books, prints, and music are also included. It was one of the finest private collections of Handel, and one of the last of its kind available for sale. Dr. Frederick James Simkin Hall, OBE,(1899-1975) was a surgeon, founder of the Deal and Walmer Handelian Society, scholar and collector. For an obituary see The Times (London), February 18, 1975 (Issue 59323), page 16.

The great value of the Hall Collection resides primarily in its large number of 18th-century printed editions of Handel's music. Practically everything of Handel that was ever printed at that time is included. Only the British Library, the Gerald Coke Collection in England, and the Schoelcher Collection in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris rival the collection.

The catalogue records for the printed materials do give citations to the Handel bibliography by W.C. Smith listed below, thus referring the reader to further particulars about the item described. See: Smith, William C. assisted by Charles Humphries. Handel: A Descriptive Catalogue of The Early Editions. London, Cassell & Co., 1960 [(ExB) ML410.H2 S6]. A note by Hall on half-title: "A first proof, corrected by the author and very kindly presented a long time in advance of publication. ... July 1960." Several pages of corrections are laid-in, and this copy was marked by Hall for his holdings.

The Manuscripts Division holds a portion of the collection, the James S. Hall Collection of George Frideric Handel [(MSS) C0640], which includes eighteen volumes of musical manuscripts of Handel by various 18th-century copyists, mainly anonymous but some identified. Other manuscripts include a volume of operatic arias (ca. 1738-1743) containing music of Handel and other composers; and a folio manuscript book including two Handel pieces. In addition, the papers of James S. Hall are comprised of correspondence, including letters by Benjamin Britten, counter-tenor Alfred Deller, harpsichordist Thurston Dart, Handel collectors Sir Newman Flower and William Charles Smith, and various other composers, performers, scholars and collectors, as well as subject files, including articles by Hall and material relating to Handel festivals and societies, especially the Deal and Walmer Handelian Society which he founded in 1946.

For particulars refer to: J. Merrill Knapp, "The Hall Handel Collection" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXXVI, 1 (Autumn, 1974) pp. 3-18 [full text] . This article gives a fair amount of detail concerning some high points in the collection. These volumes enhance Princeton's ability to be a center for early English 18th century musical study.

Also see J. Merrill Knapp, "The Hall Collection" in the Handel Collections and their History edited by Terence Best (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1993) pp. 171-183. The article has a short-title list of the contents of the collection starting on page 179.

Prior to receipt of the Hall Collection, the Library acquired a first edition of Handel's Messiah, a gift of William H. Scheide '36 in 1955-56.

Portions of the collection are available as part of the Library's Digital Collections. See this URL: