Family's Rare Gifts to SLU Carry Forward Bibliophile's Legacy
A desire to see a loved one’s collection of rare, historical texts teach new generations,
and to give something back to Saint Louis University, led SLU alumnus Jeff Edwards,
Ph.D., to comb through closets, check his home’s walls and to look through boxes in
an Ohio garage. The items he found have become rare gifts that will now reside at
Edwards (Grad Parks ’17) and his wife, Shelby, recently donated a bound copy of the
four Gospels from a 1611 King James Bible, along with three illuminated medieval manuscript
leaves and a watercolor design for a stained glass window likely dating from the 19th
Receiving a single leaf from a first edition of the King James Bible is considered
a fine addition to an institution’s collections, special collections staff members
noted. The Edwards’ gift includes all four Gospels, making it much more significant.
The King James Bible was one of the first officially-sanctioned translations of the
Bible into English and it is among the most widely republished books in the world.
First editions of the King James Bible are especially rare. The King James translation
of the Bible has had a profound and lasting impact on English literature and language.
“Indeed, it is one of the cornerstones of world culture,” SLU professor Gregory Pass,
Ph.D., assistant dean for special collections, said.
“Having these Gospels from the King James Bible allows us to illustrate with vivid
immediacy a landmark in the history of the Bible and how it was read and circulated,”
Jennifer Lowe, associate professor and rare books librarian, said.
The gift is already being used to teach SLU students. It also continues the legacy
of Edwards’s grandfather, Norman H. Strouse, an ad maven from the era made famous
by AMC’s Mad Men.
“He became a self-made man largely through the media and the media of his time,” Edwards
said. He recalled that as a child and young man, his grandfather shared a list of
100 books with him that Strouse believed were essential reading. That list included
Gray’s Anatomy and other weighty classics.
After rising from a job as a mail room clerk, Strouse became the CEO of J. Walter
Thompson, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. He was also an avid reader
and became a collector of rare books, print culture artifacts like centuries-old wooden
type, manuscripts, and fine art by artist-friends including Pablo Picasso and Henri
Matisse. Strouse also became known for his philanthropy as he donated much of the
impressive rare book and manuscript collection that he built over his lifetime to
Edwards’ grandfather favored outings to rare bookshops, taking his grandson along.
Edwards still owns the volume of Gulliver’s Travels that came home with him after the first of those trips.
“This was his passion,” Edwards said. “His collection was about the transmission of
ideas. He very strongly believed in education because getting one for him was very
difficult.” Edwards’ grandfather could not pursue a college education because he needed
to support his mother and siblings, his grandson recalled.
Before his death, Strouse gifted large parts of his collection to libraries and universities
around the country and in 1969 founded the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in St. Helena,
California, with a gift of his collection of the author’s works and related memorabilia.
Parts of Strouse’s collection passed to Edwards’ mother and then to his father after
her death. Edwards and his wife, Shelby, eventually displayed some of the rare books
and collections in their home. Others ended up in closets and some were stored in
boxes in the family garage in Ohio.
Edwards has had a long relationship with SLU and its aviation department in Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology. The owner of AvSafe, an investigative aviation safety company in Chesterfield, Missouri,
he had taught adjunct courses in aviation and encouraged his daughter, Jennifer Gritton,
to tackle a doctoral degree at SLU. She, in turn, challenged her dad to do the same.
“She said if she did it, I had to do it,” her father recalled. Edwards defended his
dissertation in December 2017, earning his doctorate in aviation.
A video by SLU’s Digital Media team about the Rare Books Room shared through Newslink inspired
him to think about his grandfather’s collection. Learning how the SLU Libraries preserve
and make use of rare printed and manuscript materials for teaching and research, he
and his wife contacted Lowe about donating the items.
“I thought they should be somewhere where they could be appreciated and protected,”
Edwards explained. “It’s important that things like this be used in education and
to further research instead of sitting in someone’s closet, or even being discarded.”
The gift includes the entire section of the four Gospels separately bound from a first
edition, first issue of the King James Bible. The Gospels’ text was printed in gothic,
“black letter” type, a font typically used for sacred scripture in the 17th century.
The Edwards’ Gospels were originally part of a book intended to serve as a lectern
Bible, which would have been read in public.
This was his passion. His collection was about the transmission of ideas. He very
strongly believed in education because getting one for him was very difficult.”
Jeff Edwards, Ph.D.
The manuscripts include a leaf from a Book of Hours depicting John the Baptist in
the Wilderness produced around 1450 in Bruges, a city in what is now Belgium; a leaf
from an Italian Antiphonary, or type of liturgical book, that shows St. John the Evangelist;
and a leaf from a French ferial psalter – a collection of psalms and other materials
for the Divine Office – that depicts Christ bearing the Cross on his road to the Crucifixion.
The watercolor design depicts a stained glass window.
The Edwards’ gifts bring history to life for students. Lowe has already used the Gospels
to teach about the history of the Bible to theology classes.
“These manuscript leaves are fine examples of late medieval illumination that will
add to our ability to teach the history of manuscript book culture, making these lessons
more tangible and compelling to students,” Pass said.
As donors, Jeff and Shelby Edwards have been made members of the Saint Louis University
Library Associates, and they will be honored for their gift later this year at the
annual Library Associates appreciation event.
Edwards urged other alumni and friends of the University to seek out potentially rare
books and manuscripts they may have that might further SLU’s mission of educating
“I would encourage people to look in their closets, their basements, their garages,
and to see if they have something collecting dust and to consider donating it to an
institution like this that can benefit from it,” he said.
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious
Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first
university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous,
transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse
community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares
students to make the world a better, more just place.