Collecting the major works of Sir E.K. Chambers

This guest post comes from Charles Littrell, who has put together some top tips for collecting the major works of Sir E.K. Chambers…

Sir Edmund Kerchever Chambers (1866—1954) was the first president of the Malone Society, serving from 1909 to 1939. He was a prime example of those late Victorian gentlemen who productively channelled their interests into something of great use to society. Chambers was simultaneously a leading public servant, rising from the 1890s to the 1920s to second secretary of the U.K. Department of Education, and one of the greatest ever researchers of the early modern stage. The story as we have it is that Chambers wished to write a life of Shakespeare, but decided to undertake a little preliminary research first. Over the ensuing 30 years, this research became The Medieval Stage, The Elizabethan Stage, and finally his work on Shakespeare. It would be fair to note that the Chambers Shakespeare biography is not universally acknowledged as the best of its type. The “preliminary research” works, by contrast, were and remain monumental works of painstaking scholarship.

Readers may be surprised that Chambers’s landmark works are, with some care, able to be acquired in collectable versions for modest sums.

Chambers was astoundingly prolific despite (or on second thought, more likely due to) his lack of an academic appointment.

His three major works are:

The Medieval Stage (Two Volumes, 1903)

The Elizabethan Stage (Four Volumes, 1923) and

William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (Two Volumes, 1930)

In addition to these works, a collector and particularly a scholar should also acquire Beatrice White’s Index to the latter two works above.

All the above works were published in first editions by Oxford Clarendon Press, so were printed to last a long time with good care.

Some Collecting Tips

1)    All the works have been extensively reprinted, so collectors seeking first editions would be well advised to contact the bookseller before purchase, to confirm the above editions and publication dates. Some scholars may prefer later editions which will include some corrections from the first editions.

2)    It can be much cheaper to collect multi-volume sets from among “orphan” volumes, but this exposes the collector to the risk that the assembled set will suffer from variable quality.

3)    I find that ABE Books ( has by far the best selection, and also has good online search and sales functionality.

4)    The multi-volume sets often attract extra shipping charges, but this can sometimes be negotiated.

Medieval Stage

When searching for the 1903 volumes, use all of “Mediaeval” “Medieval” and “Mediaval” as search terms. Currently “Medieval Stage” is selling online in at least good condition for $45 to $300 for a matched 2 volume set. The more expensive sets tend to have former owner association values; otherwise collectors can find completely acceptable sets for $50 to $75. Those of a competitive shopping bent are invited to match my daughter, who acquired her two volumes separately and in excellent condition for a total of $17.07 shipping included.

Elizabethan Stage

It is possible to spend a great deal of money on the four volume set, with $700 to $800 often asked for fine sets—and not much less than that for the 2009 reprint. But good to very good sets are reasonably available for around $200, and one can sometimes do much better, with $50 for a good set achievable with luck and patience.

William Shakespeare

This is the book Chambers spent 30 years getting ready to write, including producing the above volumes. Prices for the two volume set start around $50, but $75 to $200 is more common for a set in good condition. Volume II can be purchased in good condition for less than $10, but finding an “orphan” Volume 1 is difficult.

White’s Index

White produced this under the auspices of the Shakespeare Association, and Chambers was kind enough to put in a laudatory preface. A more honest preface might have had Chambers admitting to such sparse indexing, that frustrated readers banded together to produce an independent index!

Very useful for active users, and at prices starting from $7 (but $25 more common), not a major investment.

Other works

Chambers produced a great many other works, often printed in high quality editions by Oxford Clarendon. Plus of course he had considerable input into the early Malone editions. A quick search through ABE reveals many interesting “minor” Chambers works for under $10.

Happy collecting, and happy reading.