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John Blew collection on Wright Howes, Zoe Howes, and U.S.IANA

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Blew

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, genealogical research, photographs, interviews, writings, and other materials related to the lives and careers of Wright and Zoe Howes, and their families. Materials were compiled by John Blew, a Chicago lawyer and book collector who became interested in the life of Wright Howes through his use of Howes' one-volume annotated bibliography of United States-related books, U.S.IANA. Blew wrote a series of papers and journal articles on the Howes' lives and careers as booksellers, and also Wright Howes' close friendship with collector and Newberry Library trustee Everett D. Graff, in preparation for publishing a book length manuscript. While there is a series of John Blew research materials containing interview transcripts and copies of his writings, Blew's notes are also scattered throughout other parts of the collection, particularly in the Wright and Zoe Howes series. Blew made extensive use of the Wright Howes Papers already at the Newberry, and some photocopies of these materials are also included.

Materials include letters written by Wright Howes to his wife Zoe while he was stationed in France during World War I, correspondence with book dealers and other customers, the publishing history of U.S.IANA, genealogies and family histories, and a number of interviews John Blew conducted with people who knew the Howeses, describing their business, relationship, social life, and connection to the Newberry Library, and a lengthy interview with Americana bookseller William Reese, regarding the content and significance of U.S.IANA. Photographs are of Wright and Zoe Howes, friends and family members, their various residences, and other family items. There are many photos of the Howeses entertaining in their home at the Irving Apartments, where several employees of the Newberry Library also lived at the time. Audiotapes of eight of Blew's interviews are also included, as well as copies of the two published editions of U.S.IANA, and a copy of William Hartley's book, Wright Howes: The Final Edition, collected by John Blew and housed in a custom made box.

Audiovisual materials have been digitized and are available online.


  • Creation: 1790s-2012
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1870-1999



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The John Blew collection on Wright Howes, Zoe Howes, and U.S.IANA is open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized and are available online. Access to the original audiovisual items is restricted.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The John Blew collection on Wright Howes, Zoe Howes, and U.S.IANA is the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of John Blew

Chicago collector and writer.

John Blew was born and raised in Chicago. He attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1962 with an economics degree, and then went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1966. Blew practiced corporate and securities law in Chicago for 45 years, first with Bell, Boyd & Lloyd LLP, and then with its successor firm, K & L Gates LLP. He retired from law in 2011. Blew is a member and former officer and a director of the Society of Architectural Historians, a member and current director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, and a member of the Visiting Committee to the University of Chicago Library, the Caxton Club, the Grolier Club, and the Union League Club of Chicago.

In the early 1990s, Blew took introductory courses in American history at the University of Chicago, as a participant in its Returning Scholar Program, which led to an interest in collecting antiquarian Americana. He completed a book on the lives and work of Wright and Zoe Howes and the story of U.S.IANA in November 2014, after nearly twenty years of research and writing.

John Blew and his wife Joan live in Chicago. The couple has three children and five grandchildren.

Biography of Wright Howes

Chicago bookseller and bibliographer.

Born in 1882 in Macon Georgia, to Davis Howes and Susan Wright Howes, Henry Wright Howes grew up with his brother Davis and sisters Emily and Mary among generations of Southern relatives. He attended Mercer University, a private men's college in Macon for a year before his father relocated the family to New York City. Howes attended Columbia University and then Columbia Law School, graduating in 1905. After practicing law for two years in Rogers, Arkansas, Howes entered the antiquarian book business, first working as a clerk in a Boston bookstore, then briefly operating his own stores in Kansas City, Missouri, and San Antonio, Texas, before eventually moving to Chicago to work for Powner's Book Store in 1912. Zoe Heflin Reed, an Illinois native whom he had met in New York City some years earlier, joined him there shortly after.

In 1917, at the age of 35, Howes enlisted in the U.S. Army when the United States entered World War I. He spent two years in the army, first at Camp Grant, in Rockford, IL, and then in France, serving as an officer in an administrative capacity. Upon his return in 1919 he and Zoe married, and the couple moved to an apartment at 1142 S. Michigan Ave. Wright turned down an offer from Powner's to oversee their new Los Angeles location, instead choosing to remain in Chicago as Vice President of the growing company, and manager of one of its Chicago stores. He made numerous buying and selling trips for Powner's, likely gaining experience and building his own inventory at the same time. Near the end of 1924, Wright left Powner's, and the Howeses opened their first antiquarian bookshop in the ground floor of their apartment building: Wright Howes - Old and Rare Books. It was during this time the Howeses met Everett D. Graff, a collector of Americana and Newberry Library trustee who patronized the store. For the next 45 years, Wright and Zoe would operate some version of this business from their various residences. The Howeses specialized in rare and collectible Americana, with Wright's knowledge of American history complemented by Zoe's background in librarianship and bookbinding. Zoe also took on the accounting and management of the business, allowing Wright to focus on acquiring and selling books, and maintaining relationships with customers. Wright Howes kept detailed notes about the books he handled, which would later become the basis for his seminal bibliographic work, U.S.IANA.

The Howeses moved from the S. Michigan Ave. space to Chicago's north side in 1939. Instead of opening a new shop, they ran the bookselling business from their home, first at Chicago Ave. and Rush St. until 1951, and then the Irving Apartments at 1018 N. State St. Owned by the Newberry Library and located near it, with many Newberry employees in residence there, the Irving Apartments were deeply intertwined with library activity. It was while the Howeses lived there that Wright began compiling U.S.IANA, likely at the urging of his friend and customer Everett D. Graff, and with the aid of a fellowship from the Newberry. With much of Wright's research and writing done at the Newberry, the first edition of U.S.IANA was published in 1954, and the second, expanded edition in 1962.

When the Irving Apartments were sold and demolished in 1970, Wright and Zoe Howes sold off their remaining inventory and retired to Augusta, GA, where they lived in the Bon Air Apartments. Zoe Howes died in October of 1977 at 90 years old; Wright Howes died 6 months later at the age of 95.


7 Linear Feet (15 boxes and 4 volumes)

0.5 Linear Feet (13 audiocassettes)


Correspondence, genealogical research, photographs, interviews, writings, and other materials related to the lives and careers of Wright and Zoe Howes, their families, and Wright Howes' bibliographical work U.S.IANA. Materials were compiled by John Blew, a Chicago lawyer and book collector who became interested in the life of Wright Howes through his use of Howes' U.S.IANA.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Wright and Zoe Howes, 1833-2012
Boxes 1-8
Series 2: Family Papers, 1790s-2010s
Boxes 9-12
Series 3: John Blew Research, 1990-2012
Box 13
Series 4: Photographs, 1850s-2000s
Boxes 14-15
Series 5: Audiocassettes, 1997-2011
Audiovisual boxes (restricted)
Series 6: U.S.IANA and Related Editions, 1954-1994
Volumes 1-3

Collection Stack Location

1 37 4, 1 16 3


Gift of John C. Blew, 2014

Related Material

See also the Wright Howes Papers, Wing Modern MS Howes. Additional Wright Howes materials are also found in the Newberry Library Archives, specifically the Everett D. Graff Papers, The Stanley Pargellis Papers, and the James M. Wells Papers. See the Inventory of the Newberry Library Archives for more information.

Processed by

Kelly Kress, 2014.

Inventory of the John Blew collection on Wright Howes, Zoe Howes, and U.S.IANA, 1790s-2012, bulk 1870-1999
Kelly Kress
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023-03-01: Audiovisual materials have been permanently removed from the collection for preservation. Access to the original audiovisual items is restricted.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States