When Chicago steel magnate Everett D. Graff walked into Wright Howes’ bookshop on Michigan Avenue in the 1920s he sparked one of the most important friendships in the book world. Their four-decade partnership, which included cross-country road trips in search of books, manuscripts, and maps, resulted in a world-class American history collection, which Graff donated to the Newberry in 1964. Among the Graff Collection of Western Americana’s areas of strength are Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the early Midwest, the mining and cattle frontiers, the Mormon trek west, Texas, and the “Cowboys and Indians” of pop culture. One of the most noteworthy features of the Graff Collection is its coherence, which conveys Graff and Howes’ vision as collectors.
Their friendship also facilitated Howes’ creation of U.S.-IANA, a single-volume bibliography of nearly 12,000 entries on Americana that remains one of the most essential resources for people interested in acquiring, studying, or evaluating materials on American history and culture. Before the age of hand-held devices, generations of book dealers carried around “little black books” of accumulated knowledge to help them identify books and evaluate potential purchases. Wright Howes, long known as the dean of Chicago book dealers, wanted to compile a single book from his legendary collection of “little black books” that would serve as an Americana resource. Graff, who was president of the Newberry’s Board of Trustees from 1953 to 1964, helped Howes secure a fellowship at the Library, which allowed Howes to complete his book. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of U.S.-IANA’s definitive edition.