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John MacKay Shaw Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 2008-006

Scope and Contents

The John MacKay Shaw Collection, housed at the Florida State University Libraries, includes over 22,400 books in the Childhood in Poetry Collection and over 46 linear feet of other materials that document the personal, business, and collecting activities of John MacKay Shaw, an internationally-known book collector. The Childhood in Poetry Collection is one of the foremost repositories of the poetry of childhood. It includes the books by, for, and about children, and additional materials he collected relating to the themes (bibliography, biography, children, collecting, publication, and writing) of the collection.

While the emphasis of the John MacKay Shaw Collection is on poetry and children, it also contains the collector's own notes and correspondence, as well as original drawings, proof sheets, catalogs, and other materials assembled during his many years of research. In these materials as well as in the books, history, sociology, music and theatre, art and education are well represented, with emphasis on the Victorian era.

Significant authors and poets documented in the Collection include Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Blake, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, Lewis Carroll, Eugene Field, Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare, A.A. Milne, Theodor Geisel, Charles and Mary Lamb, James Whitcomb Riley, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Isaac Watts, and William B. Yeats.

The John MacKay Shaw Collection consists of the Childhood in Poetry Collection and other materials he collected that document the books and poets and relate to the six themes that are evident throughout the Collection: bibliography, biography, children, collecting, publishing, and writing. These additional materials are organized into several series and subseries documenting the career of this notable collector. The Shaw Life series comprises biography, business files, church and education materials, correspondence, and personal files; Professional Files contain Shaw Correspondence and the Collection's History and Operation; Literary Materials include Shaw Bibliography Notes and Source Materials, Theme Materials in Childhood in Poetry, Shaw Writings, Autographed Materials, and Writings by Others who used the Shaw Collection; Promotional Materials include catalogs and advertisements; Other Printed Materials comprise magazines, catalogs, and newspaper articles; Audiovisual Materials contain films, photographs, and recordings. Additional materials include artwork, memorabilia, and the books in the Childhood in Poetry Collection.


  • created: 1737-2007


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright owned by Florida State University. All requests for permission to quote, publish, broadcast or otherwise reproduce from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Associate Dean for Special Collections and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Florida State University Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical or Historical Information

John Shaw was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 15, 1897. In 1911, he immigrated with his mother and two sisters to Philadelphia where his father had already found work and a place for the family to live. He quit school at the age of 14 and went to work as an errand boy at John Wanamaker's Department Store. Later he took stenographic courses at the Wharton Business School. He enlisted in the Army in 1917 and was stationed in France with the Ambulance Corp during World War I.

When he returned to the U.S. in 1919 he became part of the steno pool for Mitten Management, which operated the transportation system in Philadelphia. Thomas Mitten, the President of the company, drew him out of the pool to be his personal secretary. His interest in people led Shaw to write fliers that were distributed to passengers on the trolleys and trains, his first public relations job. After Mr. Mitten's death, Shaw went to work for the Bell Telephone System, and remained a public relations executive with that company until he retired in 1959. Part of this job was to serve as liaison for the company in the production of the weekly classical music radio program "The Bell Telephone Hour." Based on research he conducted, he also redesigned the Yellow Pages for New York City. He changed his name legally to John MacKay Shaw to distinguish himself from all the other John Shaws he had discovered. He chose MacKay in honor of his mother's uncle, the scholar, navigator, and teacher John MacKay of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland.

When his two children were young, Shaw read and sang to them often. He recited poetry, sang the old Glasgow drinking songs, Gilbert and Sullivan, and songs of the Gay Nineties. However, the children wanted to hear poems about them, not about other children. He promised to write them if they would provide the subjects for him to write about. Each year between 1933 and 1937, he collected the poems he had written that year and had them printed in pamphlets which he sent to friends at Christmas. Too soon the children outgrew the pleasures of poetry, but Shaw never did. Realizing that other fathers must have written poems for their children, he went looking for them in the second-hand bookstores. Thus began his collection of Childhood in Poetry.

For thirty years, while continuing to work for the Bell System, John MacKay Shaw haunted the second-hand bookstores of Great Britain and the United States, poring over catalogs in the evenings, searching out and purchasing rare and first editions of poetry for, about, and by children. He studied the books, read and wrote about them and their authors, and discoursed extensively with other collectors and scholars. He became a member of the Grolier Club and the American Library Association.

Upon retirement in 1959, Shaw gave his collection of almost 6,000 volumes to Florida State University (FSU) Libraries. For the next 25 years, Shaw went to the library daily to study, write, and talk about his books. He continued adding to his collection. FSU provided secretarial support. Jim Birchfield helped him as curator; later Fred Korn served in that capacity. Shaw was an active member of the St. Andrews Society, the Friends of the FSU Libraries, and the Presbyterian Church. He initiated the FSU Libraries' Scottish Collection in 1975 by a donation of 100 of his books. Other Scots donated books and ephemera too, not only to the Scottish Collection but to Childhood in Poetry, including former director of the New York Public Library, George Fraser Black. In 1967 and 1969, the Friends of the FSU Libraries published two hardcover illustrated volumes of the poems Shaw had written for his children: The Things I Want: Poems for Two Children (1967) and Zumpin, More Poems for Two Children (1969).

All during his collecting years, as he discovered new material, Shaw typed information about it into the pages of his notebooks. He collected catalogs, articles, ads, and items other than reading material as well-- anything that related to childhood and poetry. He stored non-book items in labeled envelopes and folders as well as in his notebooks, and even in the books themselves. These items and the notes he kept for each book provided the source material for his 11-volume annotated bibliography, Childhood in Poetry, which includes a keyword index to the poems as well. In addition to scholarly journal articles, Shaw published several monographs covering various categories of authors. He also gave talks to professional librarians and English teachers around the U.S. and read to children in the local schools.

On the recommendation of Jim Walters of FSU's Department of Child Development, the FSU faculty awarded John MacKay Shaw the Doctor of Humane Letters degree on May 24, 1972. Shaw died in Tallahassee, FL on March 15, 1984.


69.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The John MacKay Shaw Collection consists of the Childhood in Poetry Collection and other materials he collected that relate to the six themes that are evident throughout the Collection: bibliography, biography, children, collecting, publishing, and writing. These other materials include articles, audiovisual materials, biographical materials, catalogs, correspondence, literary materials, notes, photographs, programs, and publications documenting his personal, business, and collecting activities.

Arrangement Note


Shaw Life: Boxes 1-11B. Arranged alphabetically within each subseries.

Shaw Bibliography Notes and Source Materials: Boxes 12-72, 59, 73-74, 117-119. Arranged alphabetically by author's name.

Shaw Writings: Boxes 75-82. Arranged alphabetically by title (not strictly in order).

Theme Materials in Childhood in Poetry: Boxes 90-93. Arranged alphabetically within each theme subseries.

Autographed Materials: Boxes 83-89, 94-95. Arranged alphabetically by name of writer.

Folders in the Shaw Bibliography Notes and Source Materials series contain detailed lists of the contents. Folder lists for the Autographed Materials, Shaw Correspondence, Themes, and other series will be created in the future.

Custodial History

John MacKay Shaw, in anticipation of his retirement in the late 1950s, sought a repository where he could continue to work on his Childhood in Poetry Collection and collect materials related to the building of that collection. Jacqueline Dupont, Florida State University alumna and friend of his daughter Cathmar, suggested FSU. In 1959, 6,000 volumes of the Childhood in Poetry Collection, along with its collector, came to FSU.

Existence and Location of Originals

Some books from the John M. Shaw collection are available through the FSU Digital Library.

Related Materials

Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, WI, USA. Three boxes of papers and one 2-page manuscript, including Bell System speeches, articles, reports and other papers, 1930-1959. Subjects discussed include public attitudes and corporate image, rate-making and governmental regulations, and marketing and market research.

Temple University Library in Philadelphia, PA, USA. John MacKay Shaw's Mitten Management correspondence, news items, and "Service Talks" from 1919-1929, and his biography of transportation industry magnate Thomas Mitten.

Pennsylvania State University Labor Collection, State College, PA, USA. Union Dues Records of Neil Shaw, father of John MacKay Shaw.

Processing Information

In 1997, under the supervision of librarian Kathy Shelfer, students began organizing the piles, folders, and envelopes of loose materials that Shaw collected. These materials included articles, catalogs, serials, programs, and other items, as well as the notes Shaw wrote about the books and their authors. Under her supervision, students began making folders headed by authors' names and a few other headings Shaw had used. Cathmar Prange, John Shaw's daughter, assisted during the winter of 1997-98.

In the winters of 1998-2000, Prange made folders and lists of the Shaw Life materials, writings by others, and his correspondence. Debra Rouse, a Special Collections Visiting Librarian, removed materials that Shaw had inserted in books, placed them in archival envelopes, and labeled them with the author, title of the item, and the title of the book in which they were discovered.

In 2001, Shaw Notes materials were removed from non-archival envelopes and pam-binders, and filed in author folders. Prange, assisted by Garnett Avant, a Special Collections staff member, did minor preservation tasks (photocopying, stapling and taping) and sorted materials, copied labels made by Shaw into descriptive lists of individual items, and placed the items in appropriate folders.  She continued this process through 2004, adding to the lists and folders the materials that had been placed in envelopes. In 2003-2004, Delia Tam, a part-time retired library staff member, reviewed materials in the Shaw Notes boxes for typos and inconsistencies between Prange's lists and the box contents. Tam also shifted materials in boxes and on the box lists to accommodate everything that had been added since 1997.

In 2004, Prange continued organizing and preparing detailed lists of the Shaw Notes folders, which was completed in 2005. In sorting these bibliography and source materials, she found items that could not be attributed to any particular author whose name Shaw had used as a heading in his original author arrangement scheme. The subjects of these items fell into six categories or themes: bibliography, biography, children, collecting, publishing, and writing. These themes, evident throughout the collection, became the headings for folders of non-author items. During the winter of 2004-05, she solved most of the problems that Tam had noted by rewriting and/or reorganizing materials in the Shaw Notes folders.

From 2005-2007, Prange and Avant created a system for removal and tracking of additional items left in books, a process that continued through 2008. From 2007-2009, Prange completed and revised the storage and listing of Shaw Life materials, writings by others, and his correspondence begun in 2000, and wrote the finding aid's front matter. She, Altman, and graduate assistant Ginger H. Williams determined the intellectual arrangement of the collection. From 2008 to 2009, Altman and Williams created the EAD finding aid in NoteTab.


John MacKay Shaw Collection
Cathmar Prange and Ginger H. Williams
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Repository

116 Honors Way
PO Box 3062047
Tallahassee FL 32306-2047 US