Created by John MacKay Shaw
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 renowned 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.
From the guide to the John MacKay Shaw Collection, 1737-2007, (Repository Unknown)
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