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The Huntington Library Britwell Collection

The Britwell collection of ballads, held by the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, contains some of the rarest extant ballads in the world, and marks one of the few collections made up of largely sixteenth-century ballads. Only the British Library's Huth collection (with which the Britwell is intimately intertwined, as described below) and the Society of Antiquaries of London contain as robust a collection of these early ballads.


The provenance of the Britwell collection is complex, as its early history is intertwined with that of the Huth collection, which is now at the British Library. The Britwell collection has also been known as the Heber collection, after one of its owners in the 1830s. The drawing below, which accompanies the collection in the Huntington Library, details the conjoined histories of the Britwell/Heber and Huth collections:

Provenance of the Britwell Collection

Provenance of the Britwell Collection

As the drawing shows, the ballads comprising both the Britwell/Heber and Huth collections were initially owned by William Fitch, and all sold to George Daniel in 1830. The collections became separated when Daniel gave the ballads that now comprise the Britwell collection to Thomas Thorpe. (Meanwhile, Henry Huth eventually acquired the remaining ballads, and bequeathed them to the British Library). From Thorpe, the Britwell collection passed to R. Heber. In 1834, the collection was purchased by the Christie-Miller family of Britwell Court, from which the collection takes its present name. The Huntington Library acquired the collection from the Britwell Court library sale in 1919.

Printed Editions

The Britwell collection is represented in Herbert L. Collmann's edition from 1912, Ballads & broadsides, chiefly of the Elizabethan period and printed in black-letter, most of which were formerly in the Heber collection and are now in the library at Britwell Court, Buckinghamshire. Collmann provides notes and an introduction.