The impressive libraries that Edward and William Maxwell amassed throughout their lifetimes provided a source of architectural information and satisfied a marked penchant for collecting. It is fortunate that at least a part of their collections is preserved at the Blackader-Lauterman Library at McGill University through the generosity of Edward's widow, Elizabeth Ellen Maxwell; the family of his son, Stirling Maxwell; his grandson, Henry Yates; and William's daughter, Mary Maxwell Rabbani. Thus, four hundred and fifty volumes have been reunited with McGill's other Maxwell holdings of personal and business records and almost twenty thousand architectural drawings and photographs.
The importance of book collecting to the brothers and the bond it represented in their relationship is illustrated in a letter of March 1895 in which William described some of his recent purchases in Boston to Edward:
... I have caught my old craze of buying books ... Have subscribed to "Concours Publics" it being a magazine (monthly) giving plans Elevations Etc of the prize winning plans in the competitions held by the French Government Etc I was the first one to subscribe to it in our office, 5 others subscribed immediately after me. It is a splendid publication and costs $9.40 a year ... You asked me to look out for new books Etc I can confidently recommend the following. 1st A bargain. Nash's Elizabethian [sic] Houses, 5 vols, original Edition (same as those Mr. Learmont lent you) at Estes & Lauriat's. These vols are very scarce. Cost $16 or $17 I don't know which. There is one set out, if you want to let me know immediately. This work was published at $45.00. From Helburn (whom I see often) L'Architecture Francais [sic] 7 vols. 5 of plates. Cost $55. The firm bought this work and used it great deal on hotel. It is a magnificent work -From Helburn - "Hess Holzbauten" by Bickel contains 2 vols 80 plates cost $20 - This book is devoted to half timber work principally German ...
This glimpse into the brothers' early collecting habits reveals some interesting details regarding their sources and underscores the twenty-one-year-old William's potential as a bibliophile.
While there were few Montreal bookdealers who never received a visit from the Maxwells, according to family testimony, they dealt with a number of specialized firms in particular. In Montreal, their mainstay was a branch of the Bruno Hessling company, "publisher & importer of books on science and art", at 51A McGill College Avenue. Hessling's headquarters were in Berlin and Paris; their New York branch was more narrowly specialized in "books on architecture and decorative arts". Another frequent source was
Armand Guérinet, a Paris-based publisher and seller specializing in art and architecture, most likely first discovered by William during his studies in Paris.
Both brothers were in the habit of writing their names in the books they acquired and often marked the year of purchase on the title page. The earliest recorded acquisition, a slim volume of selected works of Washington Irving (1880) inscribed "Ed. Maxwell, High School [of] Montreal", may have been part of the school's curriculum. The first architectural title in McGill's Maxwell Collection was probably a Christmas present to Edward from his family the year he first went to work in Boston. Inscribed December 25, 1886, Notes and Sketches of an Architect (1876) was an English translation of a work by Felix Narjoux, a nineteenth-century French architect and travel writer who was a student of Viollet-le-Duc. The importance books on architecture held in the Maxwell family may be surmised from titles that had belonged to Edward and William's father, E. J. Maxwell, for example the fourth edition (1853) of Thomas Tredgold's Elementary Principles of Carpentry, originally acquired by Edward's grandfather and namesake, and the fourth edition (1826) of the Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture by Sir William Chambers. A large number of books were inscribed on special occasions; Howard Crosby Butler's Scotland's Ruined Abbeys was a Christmas gift from Edward to his wife in 1899, the year the book was published. Among the titles Edward acquired during his employment with Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and one he had listed in his sketchbook among "books to get", is Vignola's Traité pratique d'architecture (1865 edition).
Edward appears to have been a particularly active collector toward the end of the century. His journal for 1892 indicates that he twice attended a sale of the library of F. B. Matthews, a Montreal businessman and a charter member of the Art Association of Montreal.
Although no title can be traced to Matthews's library, other Maxwell purchases in this period have been linked to the library of the architect and designer Edward Colonna, namely part of the series of Monographs on American Architecture (1886-1898) issued as a supplement to American Architect and Building News to document projects of architect H. H. Richardson. Their original owner is clearly identifiable by the Colonna--designed bookplates. Colonna's work in Montreal from 1888 on and his projects for the Canadian Pacific Railway may account for Edward's interest in Colonna's collection.
The inscribed dates indicate that Edward acquired the books at a sale on December 10, 1898, where he also purchased the first edition of one of the most influential of eighteenth-century British architectural books, James Gibbs's A Book of Architecture (1728).
Periodicals illustrating buildings and decorative details also formed an important part of Edward's library. The McGill holdings include early volumes of the American Architect, Architectural Record, The Architectural Review, L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, The Brickbuilder, the French series Croquis d'architecture and the influential Viennese review Das Interieur.
Edward's library encompassed titles on architectural and urban history, design and decorative arts, monographs on architects and artists, portfolios of competition drawings, books on building types, pamphlets on building safety and construction, reference works of biographical and encyclopedic nature, and volumes on painting, drawing and geometry. Among the authors represented are Jean-Charles Delafosse, Josef Halfpenny, Johann Karl Krafft, Batty Langley, Paul Marie Letarouilly, A. C. and A. W. N. Pugin, and E. E. Viollet-le-Duc. With his brother's invaluable assistance, Edward had built an outstanding office library - broad in scope, rich in example and easy to consult.
It was Edward's younger brother William, however, whose prodigious interests, vast knowledge and analytical mind -coupled with a lifelong passion for book buying - formed one of the most interesting and least-known Montreal collections of the first half of the twentieth century. William's daughter, Mary Maxwell Rabbani, remembers her father as "a man whose interest in every aspect of artistic expression in all ages and cultures was universal and profound" and who "collected antiques as well as books, but later in life confined his collecting instincts to rare and limited editions mostly illustrated by famous modern artists".
William Maxwell amassed an important collection of Japanese prints, gleaned clippings on the decorative arts from hundreds of periodicals, and developed a rich and broad-ranging personal library. A recent estimate of the total number of items in William Maxwell's library indicates holdings of between thirty--five hundred and four thousand volumes, surely a personal collection with few Canadian rivals in its time.
Although several of William's Montreal contemporaries, such as David R. McCord, Gerald Hart and Joseph B. Learmont, may have amassed libraries comparable or greater in size, none displayed such a passion for collecting rare and limited editions of European authors. J. B. Learmont and his brother W. J. Learmont may have influenced William's early collecting interests;
be that as it may, book collecting quickly became the young architect's most absorbing avocation. "He had the true spirit of a student with all the interest and patience that implies and this characterized him until the end of his life," writes his daughter. "All my own feelings for and knowledge of art began when he would show me pictures in his wonderful books ...
More than one hundred titles on the history and techniques of the printed book, book collecting and bibliography attest to the seriousness of William's collecting: T. F. Dibdin's Bibliographical Decameron, R. B. McKerrow's Introduction to Bibliography, C. Ratta's L'art du livre et de la revue and A.S.W. Rosenbach's Books and Bidders convey but an inkling of the depth of his interest.
Furthermore, William served on the Library and Prints Committee of the Art Association of Montreal from 1919 to 1929, together with the McGill University Librarian Dr. G. Lomer.
The Association's annual reports also acknowledge several donations by William of Japanese prints and books on art.
The pride of William's library was his collection of about eight hundred art books and a similar number of literary works illustrated by modern artists and often printed in limited editions by private presses. A random glance reveals titles such as Les oeuvres burlesques et mystiques de frère Matorel mort au couvent by Max Jacob, published in 1912 by Henry Kahnweiler with wood engravings by André Derain, and others illustrated by such noted artists as Charles Emile Carlègle, Paul Colin, Raoul Dufy, Charles Guérin and Hermann-Paul. The Bodley Head, Cranach Press, Nonesuch Press and Golden Cockerel Press are among the houses whose work William especially sought out.
Among W. S. Maxwell's early and rare books donated to McGill are the first edition of Sir John Soane's Designs in Architecture (1778), the first edition of the first English translation of Alberti's De re aedificatoria, the 1716 London edition of Palladio's The First Book of Architecture, and A. C. Pugin's Examples of Gothic Architecture (1850) and Ornamental Gables (1839).
William's acumen as a bibliophile was matched by his desire to keep the office collection accessible; as it grew, he drew up a dictionary catalogue by author, title and subject, as well as an alphanumerical shelflist.
With the zeal of a true bibliographer, he also developed an iconographic index to plates and illustrations in his books and periodicals. William's encyclopedic interests covered nearly every aspect of art, architecture and the decorative arts; books in French, Italian and German are well represented.
The reassembling of the Maxwell libraries at McGill has taken place in spurts over a period of nearly thirty years. A first segment of Edward's collection, consisting of both books from his former office on Beaver Hall Square and items from his personal library, was offered to McGill by Edward's widow in 1946, while the Maxwell's house at 3480 Peel Street was under renovation.
Additional books came to the University when Mrs. Maxwell subsequently offered the archive of Maxwell architectural drawings to the McGill School of Architecture. Of the architectural titles that remained in the possession of the Maxwells' heirs, many have since been given to McGill.
However, the original collection comprised a greater number of volumes than have been incorporated into the collections of McGill's Blackader-Lauterman Library; many titles mentioned in Edward's sketchbooks, daily journal and correspondence cannot be traced to the reassembled collection.
The route by which the books on architecture from W. S. Maxwell's library were acquired was a circuitous one. These were kept in the collection of the Maxwell firm until the early 1950s (art books and literature were in his home library at 716 [now 1548] Pine Avenue). After William's death in 1952, his daughter, Mary Rabbani, moved her father's collections to Haifa, where she has lived since 1937. A bibliophile, too, Mme Rabbani designed a library on the ground floor of her residence to accommodate the collection. Following the publication in Montreal of Edward & W.S. Maxwell: Guide to the Archive,
Mme Rabbani generously offered her father's architectural library to McGill. The
repatriation of this collection reunited some widely dispersed Maxwell holdings in the spring of 1987. Along with the architectural drawings and photographs of the Maxwell projects in the Canadian Architecture Collection of the Blackader-Lauterman Library and the personal and business records of the firm, the Maxwell libraries provide another frame of reference for these architects' education and work.