Scope and Content
Title: Francis Bacon Library
Bulk dates: 1920-1990
Accession Number: 602120
Francis Bacon Foundation
151 boxes/83.3 linear feet
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Rare Books Department
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
Phone: (626) 405-2181
Fax: (626) 449-5720
Abstract: The Francis Bacon Library was a
private rare book research library on the campus of the Claremont Colleges in
Claremont, California. It was founded by Walter Conrad Arensberg and his wife,
Louise Stevens Arensberg. In 1938, they established The Francis Bacon Foundation to
promote study of the life and works of statesman Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626). The
Foundation administered the Francis Bacon Library, which included a comprehensive
collection on the Shakespeare authorship controversy, a subject of great personal
interest to Walter Arensberg, who believed that Bacon was the true author of
Shakespeare's plays. This archive contains the records of the Library, which closed
in 1995, including papers and correspondence of scholars interested in Bacon and the
authorship question. It also contains the personal and family papers of the
Arensbergs, and Walter Arensberg’s cryptographic files and research on the
Language of Material: The records are in English.
Collection is open to qualified researchers. For more information, please contact
All requests for permission to publish or reproduce in any format must be
submitted in writing to the Curator of Rare Books.
[Identification of item], Francis Bacon Library Archive, The Huntington Library,
San Marino, California.
Donated by the Francis Bacon Foundation, Claremont, California, November
The Francis Bacon Library was a private rare book library that stood on the campus of
Claremont Colleges, California, from 1960 to 1995. It was established and operated
by the Francis Bacon Foundation, created in 1938 by Walter Conrad Arensberg
(1878-1954) and his wife, Louise Stevens Arensberg (1879-1953).
The library grew out of the private collection of Walter Arensberg, a scholar, poet
and art collector born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a wealthy industrial family.
He became interested in Dante during his undergraduate years at Harvard University,
1896-1900, and started collecting Dante material. His interests grew to include the
Renaissance, and in particular, philosopher, essayist and statesman Sir Francis
Bacon (1561-1626). Arensberg began collecting books by and about Bacon, along with
material in all the fields of Bacon’s interest: law, politics, affairs of state,
philosophy, the natural and physical sciences, literature, cryptography, magic,
witchcraft, the occult, alchemy, and Rosicrucianism. He became convinced that Bacon
was the true author of the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare, and
embarked on what would become a lifelong obsession – using cryptographic methods to
discover supposed hidden meanings and secret messages embedded in Shakespeare’s text
by Bacon or by a Baconian secret society. Arensberg, an intellectual with a passion
for chess, numerology and word games, became engrossed with analyzing texts, and
hired researchers and cryptographers to assist him. He published
The Cryptography of Shakespeare in 1922 and other works
on the subject throughout the 1920s. Though Arensberg’s efforts were ultimately
unsuccessful and his unorthodox cipher systems considered incapable of proof, his
conviction and enthusiasm for his theories seldom waned, even up until his death in
The Arensbergs had relocated from New York to Los Angeles in 1921. They had begun
collecting art in New York, where they had developed friendships with avant-garde
intellectuals and artists--in particular, Marcel Duchamp. After moving west, they
eventually settled, in 1927, into a home in Hollywood that became filled with books
and art. While Walter steadily enlarged his library and conducted his cryptographic
research, he and Louise were also building an important collection of modern and
In 1938, Walter and Louise Arensberg founded the Francis Bacon Foundation as an
educational and research institution to promote study in science, literature,
religion, history and philosophy, with special emphasis on Bacon’s life, character
and influences. Booksellers in Europe became aware of the Arensbergs’ search for
rare books and manuscripts, and together with Foundation President and Library
Director Elizabeth Wrigley, the Arensbergs assembled one of the most extensive
libraries of Bacon material in the world.
The Foundation administered the library out of the Arensbergs’ home at 7065 Hillside
Avenue, Hollywood, until it was moved to an office building in Pasadena in 1954,
after the Arensbergs’ deaths. There, the Francis Bacon Library opened its doors to
the public for the first time, as the Arensbergs had intended. In 1960, the library
found a permanent home on the campus of the Claremont Colleges in Claremont,
California, in a new building financed by the Foundation. The small red-brick
building was formally dedicated May 8, 1960, and drew scholars, students, faculty
and members of the public to its doors for 35 years, until it was closed in 1995. A
major factor in its closing was the failing health of Elizabeth Wrigley, longtime
director of the library, who had begun working for Mr. Arensberg in 1944. (See
Biographical Note on Elizabeth Wrigley in Library Records series.)
Under Wrigley’s guidance, the library had grown to over 14,000 titles by 1995. It had
one of the world’s largest collections on Francis Bacon, and one of the largest
collections on the Shakespeare authorship controversy in the United States. The
library also held works by numerous other Elizabethan and Jacobean authors, and
supporting collections in emblem literature, Rosicrucian works, and early American
The library primarily served the academic community but made efforts to welcome the
larger public pursuing scholarship, education or simply personal interest. The
library staff held regular open houses and exhibits to attract new visitors, many of
whom were students. Each year, they mounted a major themed exhibition and a lecture
and fete in honor of Bacon’s birthday. The library interior was richly decorated
with Oriental rugs, gooseneck lamps and an iron chandelier that hung from a beamed
oak ceiling. It was a place for serious research but had its lighthearted moments
too. A 1987 exhibit on divination included 20 different methods of divination for
visitors to actually try. There was an overwhelmingly favorable response and
coverage in the local media, including an article in a local newspaper featuring a
photo of a costumed librarian gazing into a crystal ball. The library held
memberships in professional organizations and co-sponsored events and lectures
related to Bacon and Renaissance literature. It was an associate presenter of the
Renaissance Conference of Southern California, along with the Huntington Library,
the Getty and others. The library also sponsored a lecture series at the University
of Southern California featuring prominent scholars from all over the world.
Regarding the Bacon-Shakespeare authorship question, in a 1981 letter, library
director Elizabeth Wrigley explained: “Our late founder, Walter Arensberg, had his
own cipher system, and we continued to work on it for six years after his death. At
that time the Board of Trustees felt that we should not continue as we did not have
his guidance. The Foundation does not promote the controversy. We make written
materials available to scholars, but that is it. We serve as a kind of clearinghouse
for Bacon scholarship, which does include some work on the controversy.”
When the library closed in 1995, its collection of books and manuscripts were donated
to the Huntington Library, along with institutional records and some of the
Arensbergs’ personal papers. The papers related to the Arensbergs’ art collection
and most of the Foundation's administrative records were given to the Philadelphia
Museum of Art, which had earlier been given the art collection.
Scope and Content
The archive is organized into five series: Library Records; Personal Papers given to
the Library; Francis Bacon Foundation Records; the Walter and Louise Arensberg
Papers; and the Art and Artifacts Collection.
The Library records include administration and collection records, gifts and
acquisitions, exhibit records, and a large portion of correspondence. The
correspondence, almost entirely written by library director Elizabeth Wrigley, is
with students, other organizations, scholars, and, notably, interested Baconians
(supporters of the theory that Francis Bacon was the true author of the plays
attributed to Shakespeare). There are also records of gifts to the library,
including books, ephemera and papers of Baconians and other scholars studying the
Shakespeare authorship question. These papers comprise the Personal Papers series,
and are organized by owner name: Isabelle Kittson Brown, Eugene Dernay, George
Drury, Johan Franco, R. W. (Reginald Walter) Gibson, Olive Woodward Hoss, Karl
[Richards] Wallace, and A. Allen Woodruff.
The Francis Bacon Foundation papers contain articles of incorporation, financial and
legal documents, and some correspondence of the board members. There are also
clippings and photostats on Shakespeare, Bacon and Elizabethan history that were
collected for research purposes. This represents only a portion of the Foundation
records; the remainder are in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The personal and family papers of Walter and Louise Arensberg include Walter
Arensberg’s cryptographic research files, charts and notes; personal papers; drafts
of his poems and books; correspondence with Baconians; photographs; and letters of
Arensberg and [Louise] Stevens family members. The letters between Walter and his
brother Charles F. C. Arensberg are particularly personal and informative.
This portion of the Arensbergs’ personal papers does not include their correspondence
with artists or their art-collecting activities. Those papers (the Arensberg
Archives) were given by the Francis Bacon Foundation to the Philadelphia Museum of
Art, which also holds the Arensberg Art Collection of Modern and pre-Columbian art.
The last series of the archive is a group of art objects and historical artifacts
that belonged to the Foundation and library. Some were collected by the Arensbergs,
and some were acquired by the library after their deaths. They are listed with their
original descriptions kept by the Foundation.
The collection is organized into these series and subseries:
Series 1. Library Records
- 1.1 Administrative records
- 1.2 Collection records
- 1.3 Correspondence
- 1.3.1. General
- 1.3.2. Colleges, Universities and Schools
- 1.3.3. Foundations, Societies, etc.
- 1.3.4. Libraries and Related Institutions
- 1.3.5. Correspondence with Baconians
- 1.4 Exhibits
- 1.5 Financial records
Series 2. Personal Papers
- 2.1. Isabelle Kittson Brown Papers, circa 1880-1928
- 2.2. Eugene Dernay Papers, 1861-1960
- 2.3 George Drury Papers, 1960-1964
- 2.4. Johan Franco publication plates, undated
- 2.5. R. W. (Reginald Walter) Gibson Papers, circa 1940-1959
- 2.6. Olive Woodward Hoss Papers, circa 1920-1969
- 2.7. Karl [Richards] Wallace Papers, circa 1960-1973
- 2.8. A. Allen Woodruff Papers, circa 1893-1949
Series 3. Francis Bacon Foundation Records
Series 4. Walter and Louise Arensberg Papers
- 4.1. Correspondence
- 4.1.1. General
- 4.1.2. Correspondence with Baconians
- 4.1.3. Arensberg Family correspondence
- 4.1.4. Stevens Family correspondence
- 4.2. Personal
- 4.3. Writings
- 4.4. Financial
- 4.5. Legal
- 4.6. Research
- 4.7. Photographs
Series 5. Art and Artifacts Collection
The arrangement and titles of the files have been kept as much as possible in the
original order of the records maintained by the Arensbergs and the library
staff. Folders are arranged alphabetically by title within series. Documents
within folders are arranged in chronological order by date with undated
materials residing at the end of each folder. One exception is research files,
which have been kept in their original order, which was not always
chronological, but often by topic.
Arensberg, Lou (Mary
1561-1626--Criticism and interpretation.
Friedman, William F.
(William Frederick), 1891-1969
Gibson, R. W. (Reginald
Manly, John Matthews,
1564-1616--Criticism and interpretation.
Stevens, John E.
Wallace, Karl Richards,
Wolfe, Clyde Lynne
Earle, b. 1885
Francis Bacon Library.
Letters and a photograph. Boxes 77 and 104.
Author of letter to Walter Arensberg. Box 78, Folder 8.
Author of letters to Charles F. C. Arensberg. Box 80, Folder 12.
Lawrence, Frieda von
Author of letters to Walter and Louise Arensberg. Box 78, Folder 11.
Author of letters to Walter Arensberg. Box 78, Folder 19.
Subject in 1990 letter from Elizabeth Wrigley to Dorothy Wang, Box 47, Folder
Autograph in album. Box 55, Folder 14.
Arensberg Archives. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives.
Francis Bacon Foundation Records. Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Francis Bacon Foundation/Arensberg Collection. Selected collection of
manuscripts, rare books and reference books formerly in the Francis Bacon Library.
The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.