The Chester D Cuthbert Collection: Reeling In The Years

.: I’ve been in Winnipeg since last Sunday (30 Sept 2007), assisting my University of Alberta Libraries colleague Dr Merrill Distad in the coordination and shipping to Edmonton of the library and personal archives of Winnipeg book collector and good friend, Mr Chester D Cuthbert. In the mid-1970s, when I was active in sf fandom and lived in Winnipeg, I made regular visits to Chester’s home on Saturdays, where the local group of sf fans would congregate on an almost-weekly basis to swap stories, discuss the latest novels and writing, report on conventions, and make plans for our various fanzines and upcoming trips to sf conventions. Chester, who turns 95 on 15 October 2007, welcomed us into his home, and would often share stories of the glory days of past decades in the world of sf fandom. In the 1950s and 1960s, other local fans had descended upon Chester’s house, and spent many a Friday evening until the wee hours doing the same as our local group, nicknamed Decadent Winnipeg Fandom (DWF), did in the mid-1970s.

As time went on, Chester continued to build and maintain a large collection of books covering sf, fantasy, general fiction, psychic phenomena, with special interest focused on writers such as Max Brand and A Merritt. Reams of correspondence covering decades accumulated in his files, as well as hundreds of fanzines.

I moved to Edmonton in December 1978, and have worked at the University of Alberta Libraries (UAL) since September 1983. In the late 1990s, the UAL began to solicit donations in science fiction and fantasy, and in 1998, I brought Chester’s collection to the attention of the aforemention Dr Distad, who subsequently paid Chester a visit in Winnipeg, and made him an offer to consider donating the collection to us. He passed on our offer, but always insisted that when the time came, he wanted his collection kept intact if possible, and made accessible to others who might be interested in its extensive subject coverage.

Chester’s insistence that this happen was reinforced in 2002 by another related but unfortunate series of events in Winnipeg, which began six years earlier. In 1996, we lost a member of the old DWF gang – Bob Stimpson – who passed on at the way too early age of 47 from an illness. Unbeknownst to us all, his very large sf-focused collection had been bequeathed to the University of Winnipeg (UW), also caught unaware when it learned of its acquisition. Many of us thought that Bob had willed his collection to UW because in earlier years, Chester had sold bits of his library to it to help build its small but solid collection science fiction and fantasy. In any event, Bob had done the right thing – he wanted his collection made accessible to those who might benefit from it, learn from it, enjoy it, as he did.

However, after six years of housing the books in storage, UW decided it couldn’t process Bob’s collection, and despite an offer from my institution (UAL) to catalogue and house the collection on UW’s behalf, in 2002 sold the collection to one dealer, who obtained it by all accounts for a literal steal. When Chester learned of this transaction he was, as his son Ray has described it, “incensed”, to put it mildly. In a letter in the fanzine Gegenschein, #80, October 1997, Chester noted, “Bob Stimpson would be dismayed if he knew that his collection is considered little more than a problem.” Earlier, UW had asked Chester to assess Bob’s collection, the value of which he described as “possibly approaching a million” dollars.

Considering that the collection had been bequeathed in good faith, it indeed was a sad day that instead, a profit, and not a fair one at that, was made from a donation made with all good intentions by its donor. As Lorna Toolis of the Merril Collection in Toronto described it,

“It is very sad for everyone. For the University library, which was unable to avail itself of the opportunity. For the students, who will not have access to the materials. For Bob Stimpson, who tried very hard to do the right thing.”

In fairness to the UW Library, it was unprepared for such a large donation, and could not afford to keep it. Nonetheless, an amazing resource was lost to students and researchers forever.

Despite having moved away from Winnipeg in Dec 1978, I remained in touch with Chester, and began visiting him again some years ago, whenever I was in Winnipeg. Then in August of this year, we at UAL were contacted by his son Ray, to ask if we were still interested in his Father’s collection. In January of this year, Chester lost his loving wife of 62 years, Muriel, who left us at the age of 90, and combined with his advancing age, he was no longer able to maintain his large library. Dr Distad worked out the details with Ray, made arrangements for the packing and shipping of the collection, and we arrived to oversee its removal this week.

I arrived on Sunday night (30 September 2007), and on Monday returned to the airport to pick up a reporter from Folio, who, accompanied by a camera operator, was there to record the removal of the library from Chester’s home, and to interview a number of us, including Chester. On Tuesday, the movers arrived, and filled 2.5 half-tonne trucks with boxes. Wednesday the media frenzy began. Various local television and radio stations arrived for interviews, including City TV, Global, CTV, CBC Radio and CBC Television. I was interviewed by CBC Radio (live), and on tape with CTV and Global. I caught the CTV piece, which ran that evening, noticing that my last name was spelled incorrectly – not an unexpected thing. On Thursday I learned that the local CTV piece had aired across Canada on the CTV National News. On Thursday, the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun arrived and interviewed Chester, along with Ray and myself. The Free Press story ran on Friday, and appeared in a number of other papers across the country as well. The Winnipeg Sun story is here. Additionally, Ray Cuthbert was interviewed on the national CBC radio program, As It Happens. You can listen to the interview, which is part of this file, from the Wednesday 03 October 2007 show. Note that you will have to listen to about 16 minutes of other interviews (and dead air in between those interviews) before you get to the interview with Ray.

On Thursday evening, Merrill and I feted Chester, together with many of his family members, at a dinner in Winnipeg. At the dinner, I was fortunate to present to Chester with some gifts on behalf of Merril and I, and our colleagues at the University of Alberta, in gratitude for his kind donation to us, and in honour of his forthcoming 95th birthday on 16 October 2007. I’m loading pictures from the week, and you can see the first batch here. Now comes the next phase, as the Cuthbert Collection makes its way to Edmonton, where it will eventually be unpacked and sorted, awaiting appraisal and processing. Each item will receive a book plate with an appropriate inscription and photograph of Chester, and once catalogued, will include a provenance note in the online catalogue, something to the effect of, “Chester D Cuthbert Collection”, which will allow researchers to search by that designation.

I consider myself blessed to have known Chester for over 30 years, and to have experienced his hospitality and warmth, together with that of his wife Muriel, over this period of time. While I know it is difficult for him to part with his life’s work, I also know from speaking with him privately that he is very grateful to know that his collection will be treated with respect and dignity, and made available for decades to come for those students and researchers who are interested in the fields he collected for so many decades. Thank you, Chester, for all you have done for us.

13 Responses to “The Chester D Cuthbert Collection: Reeling In The Years”

  1. Margaret Clarke Says:

    Randy, what an amazing story! It is so great that these books will be kept together and receive the respect they deserve.

  2. Another reason to visit Edmonton besides the big mall | BookScribeBlog.com Says:

    […] former Winnipeger and now engineering librarian at the University of Alberta.  The post, entitled, “The Chester D. Cuthbert Collection: Reeling in the Years”, explains that Cuthbert, who will turn 95 on October 15, was dismayed that the University of […]

  3. Heather Leask Armstr Says:

    Hi Randy.

    I was curious about why Mr. Cuthbert donated his books to the U of A rather than the U of M or U of W and while googling for an answer found your wonderful blog.

    Hope you don’t mind (and if you do, let me know), but, I blogged about your blog here : http://bookscribeblog.com/?p=154

    Please also let me know if I gave proper credit for your great photo. My blog is still young and had a small, but growing readership, but, most of us are sci-fi fans.

    Thank you so much for helping find a good home for Mr. Cuthbert’s collection. I look forward to finding out more about what is included in the collection, and, hopefully seeing some of the works for myself some day.

    Sincerely,

    Heather Leask Armstrong

    P.S. does the U of A sci-fi collection include a copy of the the story The Winterberry by Nick DiChario? I have almost finished reading Mr. DiChario’s A Small but Remarkable Life (a sort of Sci-fi Western really) and had the pleasure of meeting him at a writers’ sci-fi workshop at McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park (a Winnipeg bookstore that if you haven’t had a chance to visit you should next time you are in our fair city). More info at http://nickdichario.com/ I hope to do a blog post on the book once I finish it. Then it’s on to finishing Book 11 of the Wheel of Time series byt the unfortunately passed Robert Jordan and The Orc King by R.A. Salvatore. An exciting time for sci-fi/fantasy lovers… 🙂

    lady.library@gmail.com

  4. Jane Starr Says:

    Boy, do I ever wish I worked for U of A now! This would be an amazing collection to work on.

  5. Paula Johanson Says:

    The news of the acquisition of Chester Cuthbert’s collection is marvellous. I am so pleased to hear of what you are doing with the UofA special SF collection. Rock on!

  6. tulse luper Says:

    Nicely told.
    Good work keeping the collection together.

  7. Steve Fahnestalk Says:

    When I was asked for my opinion on why the Cuthbert collection went to UAlberta Library rather than the University at Winnipeg, my answer was, “It’s probably because Randy Reichardt, who is/was a friend of Chester’s, works as a librarian at UAlberta; and I’ll bet it’s DWF-related.”
    I am very glad to know that I was correct, and I look forward at some future date to having the opportunity to (finally!) see the fabled Chester Cuthbert Collection!

  8. Michael C Reichardt Says:

    Again Son, we are very proud of your latest effort toward library science, the transferring of the Cuthbert Collection to UA and it was nice to se you again,keeping in touch, LOL DAD

  9. Andy Sawyer Says:

    Hi Randy,
    It’s splendid to hear of this — yet another major collection of sf. I wish you and your colleagues well in processing and cataloguing the collection — and I hope I can get over to Canada to see it sometime! Please let me know how you’re getting on with it, best wishes, Andy (Science Fiction Foundation Collection, Liverpool)

  10. Runte Says:

    Thank god! I had heard the Chester’s collection had been sold and broken up (obviously confused with the Stimpson donation) so was greatly relieved that collection went to UofA.

    I can’t understand why the Stimpson collection was sold if UofA offered to process it – obviously reflects the distain still felt towards SF in some academic quarters.

  11. the pod bay door / It’s Been A Long Time… Says:

    […] the sf- and fantasy-content of his extensive book collection, which we at the University of Albert had obtained on donation in October 2007.  I helped spread the word about Chester’s passing to appropriate outlets, such as Mike […]

  12. Talitha Cuthbert Says:

    I know this is now old news, but I was looking around to see if I could find a final number on the volume of Grampa’s collection and noticed that some people have questioned why his collection had not indeed gone to a Manitoba library.

    My understanding on the matter was that the U of A was the only library that had the space, means, and proper conditions to take on a collection of this magnitude (especially with probably all of the items being considerably older than I am and somewhat fragile).

    I have yet to visit the collection since it has moved over a couple of provinces (still one province away from me!), but often conjure up the smell and feel of Grampa’s beloved books. Thanks again, Randy, for your hard work to give these loved ones a safe home.

  13. Randy Says:

    Talitha: very nice to hear from you. I’m trying to secure a figure for the final, approximate number of titles your Grandpa donated to our collection. And you are correct, we were the only institutional library on the prairies prepared to handle a donation of this size, and also, your Grandpa didn’t want a repeat of what happened to Bob Stimpson’s collection, which Bob left in his will to the U of Winnipeg, which eventually sold his collection rather than keep it.

    You are welcome to visit us anytime to view your Grandpa’s collection. Most of it is currently in our offsite storage facility.

    – Randy

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