Ye Sette of Odd Volumes: Exhibition Introduction

“I remember seeing an oak Victorian Gothic bookcase, with the legend
carved round its doors, Ye Sette of Odd Volumes; and inside,
tempting rows of little books.”

From Book Collecting as One of the Fine Arts. Colin Franklin.
Aldershot: Gower Press, 1979

Cabinet for Introduction

Ye Sette of Odd Volumes

Scholars working at the UCLA Clark Library may never have noticed an out-of-the way object situated at the back left corner of the reading room. A receipt from the London auction house Bertram Rota, dated October 12, 1950, describes the object as follows: “a glass-fronted mahogany book-case, 6ft x 2 ft, the cornice of which bears a pair of O.V. initials and a gilt-lettered commemorative panel.”  This curious bookcase contains a virtually untouched archive of the publications and proceedings of a private London bibliophilic dining club, The Sette of Odd Volumes, compiled one-time Sette president and “Archivist,” Ralph Straus. The Clark Library’s mid-century director, Lawrence Powell, likely obtained the bookcase (for the low price of £130) chiefly for its connections to the decadent networks that made up “Oscar Wilde and His Circle”. Because many late-Victorian gentlemen’s clubs were clandestine by definition—“odd” by design—archives that trace their complicated social networks are difficult to access. Yet this private club, founded on a love of book collecting, maintained its own collection of over 1000 rare books, typed and handwritten letters, original artwork, photographs, and other ephemera chronicling the history of this literary and artistic society whose heyday was between 1885 and 1895. Therefore, the very overarching interest in books, printing and collecting that cemented membership in the Sette of Odd Volumes is the reason we have access to such a complete archive today. Despite being purchased to augment existing archival holdings, for many years the Straus bookcase stood untouched: neither the case nor its contents had been systematically examined or catalogued. This digital exhibit opens up Straus’s bookcase to the public, showcasing the Clark’s unparalleled collection of rare books, typed and handwritten letters, original artwork, photographs, and other ephemera chronicling the history of this longstanding dining club founded on a love of book collecting.

Ellen Crowell
Guest Curator, William Andrews Clark Library
Associate Professor, Dept. of English
Saint Louis University