Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft, Jr. Pre-Raphaelite Manuscript Collection

A Finding Aid to the Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft, Jr. Pre-Raphaelite Manuscript Collection

Helen Farr Sloan Library, Delaware Art Museum

Wilmington, Delaware

Accessioned: Bequest of Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft, Jr., 1935
Extent: 74 boxes (27 linear feet), 12 flat files
Processed: Betty Elzea, 1992
Revised: Kraig Binkowski, Sarena Deglin, 2004
Contact Information:

Helen Farr Sloan Library
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE 19806


Biography of Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft 
Scope and Contents Note 
Box List – Bancroft Collection
Added Material
Drawer List – Bancroft Collection
Box and Drawer Full Description (available upon request)



The Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite art at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, is unique. No other art collection is devoted specifically to this important nineteenth century movement, and it is doubtful that there are many other collections so thoroughly documented.

The collection came about through the personal taste and enthusiasm of Samuel Bancroft Jr. (1840-1915), a Wilmington Quaker industrialist, and his family and business connection with Manchester, England.

Bancroft was the son of Joseph Bancroft (1803-1874) of Rockford (now part of the city of Wilmington), who emigrated from Lancashire to the U.S.A. in 1824. Joseph was following his brother John, who had emigrated in 1821, and his parents, John and Elizabeth (Wood) Bancroft who, with their other eleven children had emigrated in 1822. John and Elizabeth settled on the Brandywine Creek near Wilmington and John took a partnership in a small flannel mill on a site on the north bank of the Brandywine just west of the present Market Street bridge. That lasted until 1826 when John with Elizabeth and the younger children moved to Providence near what is now Media, Pennsylvania, and there started another woolen textile mill. About the same time, 1826, John the oldest child opened a business as a soap boiler and tallow chandler in Philadelphia, and Joseph moved to Rockland, Delaware, to be superintendent of William Young’s cotton mill there. He had served his apprenticeship in Lancashire in an uncle’s cotton spinning and weaving mill.

In 1831, Joseph Bancroft moved to Rockford, 3 miles downstream on the Brandywine, and established his own mill in some buildings which had earlier been used for a grist mill. His development of this mill and his command of good Lancashire practice in spinning and weaving (he returned in 1854 to learn of the latest processes not only in spinning and weaving but in finishing), laid the foundation of the family’s wealth. In 1865, Joseph took his two sons, William P. and Samuel Jr. into partnership, the business thereafter being known as Joseph Bancroft and Sons .

After their father’s death in 1874, the brothers became sole owners of the mill, which prospered and expanded in the 1880s, owing mainly to the excellence of the finishing and dyeing processes that Joseph and Samuel had added to the spinning and weaving. In 1889 the brothers incorporated the business, having brought in younger men to undertake the day-to-day management. Samuel, who had been closely involved with the technical development, became president of the company, and it was from this time that he began seriously to collect pictures.

Bancroft’s first major purchase was made in 1890, and was a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) called Water Willow (1871), an important work by arguably the most interesting artist of the movement. Rossetti was a poet as well as an artist and his poetry was an important part of his particular appeal to Bancroft.

Bancroft was barely a generation younger than the Pre-Raphaelites and was able to meet some of them, their families, dependents, and others who had known them personally, during his frequent visits to England. He was a sympathetic supporter, on occasion, of several who were in financial difficulties. His correspondence with their survivors was preserved with characteristic foresight.

Although the strength of the collection was established by the end of the century, Bancroft continued to add to it until his death, and the collection eventually comprised over one hundred paintings and drawings, many prints, over two hundred and fifty early photographic reproductions, a valuable literary manuscript collection, a library on Pre-Raphaelite art and the associated literature of the period , and complete records concerning his acquisitions.

After his death in 1915, Samuel’s widow and two children, Joseph and Elizabeth (Mrs. John Bird) decided to keep the collection intact as a memorial to him, and to add to it as the opportunity occurred. It was the only art collection of international quality in the Wilmington area, as Jessie Rockwell (Mrs. Henry Rockwell) the family-appointed first curator of the collection (from 1929-1941) was to point out. Before his death in 1936, Joseph and his sister made arrangements for the gift of the collection, library, and archive, to the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts (which had already been founded in 1912). The gift included land for a future museum building, and subsequently, an endowment for its maintenance, in memory of both their parents. The museum building was completed in 1938 and the collections moved into it from Samuel Bancroft’s house “Rockford,” which was soon afterwards demolished.

It is evident from his collecting of autograph manuscripts that Bancroft appreciated the historic value of documentary material. This understanding and his business-like instincts no doubt led him to preserve his own correspondence connected with art matters and the papers concerned with his acquisitions. These were meticulously kept in order by his secretary Miss Deborah J. Peacock, who also made the first catalog of the collection (from 1909-1911) under his supervision (this became known as “The Debbie Book”).

Amongst the collection of correspondence, perhaps the greatest treasure is that from D. G. Rossetti to his model and companion Fanny (Conforth)Schott, which Bancroft purchased from her in her old age in 1898.

Pride of place, amongst his own correspondence, should be given to his correspondence with Charles Fairfax Murray, his friend and art adviser . Notable also are the correspondence and business papers exchanged with the London and Manchester firm of art dealers, Thomas Agnew & Sons. These two groups of papers together are central to the history of the collection.

On a more personal level, extensive and revealing are Bancroft’s correspondence with his relative Alfred Darbyshire, a Manchester architect specializing in the design of theatres, his correspondence with John Partington, a Manchester artist friend who emigrated to California, his correspondence with the artist Marie Spartali Stillman and her daughter Effie, a sculptress, his correspondence with the family of the artist Frederick Sandys, and his correspondence with Philip Burne-Jones, the son of Edward Burne-Jones.

Amongst the literary manuscripts which Bancroft collected are a considerable number of trial drafts for poetry by D. G. Rossetti, purchased from several sources, including Fanny Schott. Besides these are the historically interesting set of manuscript revisions by Rossetti made on unbound pages of an earlier publication of his poetry, the so-called “Tauchnitz Edition Proofs”. These were also bought from Fanny Schott.

In January 1988 a project was initiated to rehouse the Bancroft papers in new storage conditions which would meet today’s standards of archival preservation. At the same time the papers were to a large extent reorganized and, for the first time, catalogued to improve their accessibility to scholars. The funding for this work, which has taken approximately four years of part-time work to complete, was a joint gift of the Roger and Sarah Bancroft Clark Charitable Trust and Stephen Clark, the grandson of William P. Bancroft. Completion was made possible by funds from the John Sloan Memorial Foundation.

To make a distinction between the papers of Samuel Bancroft and his family and those specific to his collection, and those accumulated later on the subject of Pre-Raphaelitism, it was decided to divide the archive broadly into two parts, the Bancroft Archive and the Pre-Raphaelite Archive. The Bancroft Archive encompasses the papers generated by Bancroft and his son Joseph until the gift by the family of the collection, library, and papers, to the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts in 1935. The Bancroft Archive also includes subsequent papers which relate specifically to the Bancroft Collection or items within it.

After becoming part of the collection of the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts (now the Delaware Art Museum), much more material on the subject of Pre-Raphaelite art has accumulated, and will probably continue to do so. This has been arranged under the title, The Pre-Raphaelite Archive.

Betty Elzea, Archivist

March 1992.

back to top


The collection is housed in boxes which are subdivided by file folders.

Separate file folders are indicated by double spacing in the catalog.

Bancroft’s correspondence and the business transactions over his acquisitions have been filed together, since they are in many cases linked. The only system imposed by chronological order.

Listings of the correspondence generally name both correspondents but do not specify whether the letters are to or from the persons named.

In the interest of preservation (where they were easily removable) the many clippings, letters, etc., which Bancroft placed within books in his library, have been taken out and filed in appropriate boxes with notes in both book and file folder as to their new and old locations.

back to top



Box 1 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Personal and biographical.

Box 2 Bancroft family history.

Box 2A Bancroft genealogies (in cardboard tube).

Box 3 Photographs of “Rockford” and other Bancroft family houses in Wilmington.

Box 4 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence and transactions, 1871-1893.

Box 5 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence and transactions, 1894-1899.

Box 6 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence and transactions, 1900-1904.

Box 7 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence and transactions, 1905-1908.

Box 8 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence and transactions, 1909-1914.

Box 9 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence with Philip Burne-Jones, 1898-1913.

Box 10 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence with Alfred Darbyshire and family, 1880-1908.

Box 11Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence with Harrison S. Morris, and matters concerning Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1894-1913.

Box 12 Samuel Bancroft Jr., Joseph Bancroft, Mrs. Rockwell, Mrs. Bird. Correspondence and transactions with Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, and members of Agnew family, 1892-1940.

Box 13 Samuel Bancroft Jr., Joseph Bancroft. Correspondence with Charles Fairfax Murray, 1892-1916. (This correspondence was edited by Rowland Elzea and published as Delaware Art Museum Occasional Paper No. 2, February 1980. However, this box contains the complete collection.)

Box 13A Photocopies of contents of Box 13 (incomplete).

Box 14 Samuel Bancroft Jr., Mrs. Rockwell. Correspondence with J. H. E. Partington, and members of his family, 1888-1942, and related material.

Box 15 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence with family of Frederick Sandys, 1906-1914, and related material.

Box 16 Samuel Bancroft Jr. Correspondence and transactions, etc., with Stillman-Spartali family. 1898-1913.

Box 17 Material relating to Edward Burne-Jones. 1893-1933. [Collected by Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and Joseph Bancroft]

Box 18 Material relating to Christina Rossetti, Maria Rossetti, Gabriele Rossetti. 1862-1899.[Collected by Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and Joseph Bancroft]

Box 19 Material relating to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863-1931.[Collected by Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and Joseph Bancroft]

Box 20 Contents of “Portfolio Scrap-Book”. This consists of a miscellaneous collection of letters, mostly connected with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, acquired by SBJr. It is in its original order as arranged by Miss Peacock, his secretary. This box also contains additional related material.

Box 20A Items which have been mounted for display, originally from “Portfolio Scrap-Book”.

Box 20B. “Portfolio Scrap-Book” (the original, empty, binder of the Scrap Book of “Pre-Raphaelite Art”). Box of Samuel Bancroft Jr.’s book plates designed in 1885 by Alfred Darbyshire.

Box 20C Photocopies of contents of Box 20.

Box 21 Memorabilia of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, bought from “Fanny” Schott by Samuel Bancroft Jr., etc.

Box 22 Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Poetry manuscripts.

Box 23 Literature about D. G. Rossetti. 1882-1908.

Box 24 Literature about D. G. Rossetti. 1908-1928.

Box 25 Material relating to Frederic Shields. 1889-1935. [Collected by Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and Joseph Bancroft]

Box 26 Catalogues, etc. from dealers in reproductions. 1889-1927.

Box 27 Catalogues, etc. from publishers and dealers, concerning books, prints, and manuscripts. c.1898-c.1935.

Box 28 Exhibition catalogues, London (public galleries). 1883-1913.

Box 29 Exhibition catalogues, London (commercial galleries). 1883-1909.

Box 30 London, National Gallery of British Art, Millbank, (Tate Gallery) catalogues, c.1900-1933.

Box 31 Catalogues, etc. from Birmingham and Manchester galleries and exhibitions. 1882-1913.

Box 32 Catalogues of international exhibitions, 1893-1904.

Box 33 Auction sale catalogues. Collections of interest to Samuel Bancroft Jr., 1892-1909.

Box 34 Miscellaneous: photographs, autograph ms., etc. collected by Samuel Bancroft Jr.

Box 35A Miscellaneous published material. 1868-c.1905.

Box 35B Miscellaneous published material. 1906-1934.

Box 36 Papers concerning Bancroft Collection and its history, 1903-1935.

Box 37 History of Bancroft Collection, miscellaneous papers, mainly after 1935.

Box 38 Loans and requests for loans of Bancroft Collection, 1892-1940. Correspondence, etc.

Box 39 Loans and requests for loans of Bancroft Collection, 1892-1982. Exhibition catalogues.

Box 40 Newspaper articles preserved by Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and his family. 1892-1917.

Box 41 Joseph Bancroft. Correspondence and transactions, 1915-1942.

Box 42 “catalog of Paintings and Photographs of the Collection of Samuel Bancroft, Jr.”, known as “The Debbie Book”

Box 43-48 “Tauchnitz Edition Proofs” of the poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1881.

Box 49-50 Elisabeth Luther Cary’s “The Rossettis” (1900). Proofs of the plates.

Box 51A Correspondence referring to the Bancroft Collection (other than with Samuel Bancroft Jr.), 1906-1948.

Box 51B Correspondence referring to the Bancroft Collection (other than with Samuel Bancroft Jr.), 1950-1988.

Box 52 Scholarly work on, or with connections to, the Bancroft Collection, 1927-1980.

Box 53 Articles on the Bancroft Collection, 1982-1990.

Box 54 W. E. Fredman, correspondence with W.E.F., articles by W.E.F.

Box 55 Pre-Raphaelitism (general). Publications, articles, reviews, 1913-1987.

Box 56 Pre-Raphaelitism (general). Collection catalogues and loan exhibition catalogues from public galleries, 1858-1989.

Box 57 Pre-Raphaelite and other nineteenth century British artists: catalogues and publications concerning specific artists. 1962-1989.

Box 58 Pre-Raphaelitism (general). Exhibition catalogues, commercial galleries, 1964-1989.

Box 59 Catalogues: Booksellers’, auctioneers’, print-sellers’, 1886-1948.

Box 60 Material relating to William Blake. 1925-1965.

Box 61 Material relating to Ford Madox Brown. 1850-1964.

Box 62 Material relating to Edward Burne-Jones. 1902-1987.

Box 63 Material relating to William Morris. c.1920-1988.

Box 64 Articles, published and unpublished on Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 1949-1991.

Box 65 Material relating to Frederick Sandys. 1862-1980.

Box 66 Pre-Raphaelite and related British artists and craftsmen: miscellaneous material. 1879-1990.

Box 67 Photographs used as exhibits in “The Pre-Raphaelite Era” exhibition, 1976.



Previously uncatalogued material, separated from but associated with the Bancroft Collection.

Box 68 Pyle student Sketch Club correspondence and sketches, 1903-1905.



Drawer 1 Photographs of Edward Burne-Jones, Tennyson, Frederick Sandys, Fanny Cornforth, D. G. Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and Samuel Bancroft, Jr.

Drawer 2 Autotype photographs of the works of Edward Burne-Jones.

Drawer 3 Autotype photographs of the works of Philip Burne-Jones, Ann Lea Merritt, George Inness, George Inness, Jr., F. A. Bridgman, J. E. Millais, Charles Fairfax Murray, Lucy Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, Frederick Sandys, and Albert Moore.

Drawer 4 Autoype photographs of the works of Mary L. Macombes, Marie Spartali Stillman, Elizabeth Siddal, Irving Wiles, Wilkinson, George Frederick Watts, Walker, Frederic Shields.

Drawer 5 Autotype photographs of the works of William Blake.

Drawer 6 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 31- 62.

Drawer 7 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 64- 97.

Drawer 8 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 98-201.

Drawer 9 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 205-240.

Drawer 10 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 241-249.

Drawer 11 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 250-275.

Drawer 12 Autotype photographs of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Surtees Numbers 276-535.

back to top

© Delaware Art Museum