History of the Collection
The Oberlin Conservatory Library Collection of Musicians' Autographs and Photographs was compiled over many decades from a variety of sources.
The foundational gift for the collection was given by Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus W. Best in 1948, consisting of autograph letters from various musicians along with postage stamps from various countries commemorating musical people and events. Best (April 22, 1865-June 14, 1948) was an 1890 graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory.
After additional studies with Martin Krause in Leipzig, Germany, Mr. Best returned to the U.S. to direct conservatories in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. Among the musicians represented in this gift are C. P. E. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Amy Beach, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Clara and Robert Schumann, and Richard Wagner. In 1967, the staff of the Conservatory Library translated each letter in the collection and published a guide containing the translations along with select facsimiles (cataloged as ML94.B53.856)
A later gift by Frederick G. Marks of signed portraits and letters, focusing primarily on the music of Richard Wagner, enhanced the collection. Marks (July 20, 1919-June 20, 2005) graduated from Oberlin College in 1940, after which he served in the Army in World War II and then worked as an agent for New York Life Insurance Company. Along with the portraits and letters, Marks also donated 67 volumes of music and books which are individually listed in Oberlin's online library catalog.
Signed portraits and photographs of musicians given by Charles W. Morrison and Frank H. Shaw are also a part of the collection. Morrison and Shaw were both directors of the Conservatory, from 1902-1924 and from 1924-1949, respectively. Additional miscellaneous items acquired from a variety of purchases and donations round out the holdings.