Knowing the hearts, minds and educational practices of Henry Thoreau, the Alcotts, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Elizabeth Peabody.

“  from his friend and teacher”   Amos Bronson Alcott, progressive educator and father of Louisa May Aclott, gifts a book to six-year old Edward Bangs in 1830. Edward Bangs, later a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alcott and Henry Thoreau, became an attorney who helped Thoreau’s sisters in a dispute with a neighbor.

from his friend and teacher” Amos Bronson Alcott, progressive educator and father of Louisa May Aclott, gifts a book to six-year old Edward Bangs in 1830. Edward Bangs, later a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alcott and Henry Thoreau, became an attorney who helped Thoreau’s sisters in a dispute with a neighbor.

Bringing the presence of the past into the present to help inform the future.

Kent knows the hearts, minds and lives of the 19th century New England Transcendentalists, the towering figures of American thought that include Henry Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, and Elizabeth Peabody. Over the last quarter century Kent built a number of substantial collections of rare books and manuscripts while assisting scholars, collectors and institutions in the identification and acquisition of significant artifacts.

Examples of books Kent has handled and placed include:

  • Books from the libraries of cultural icons such as Thoreau, Emerson, the Alcotts, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Mahatma Gandhi, FDR, JFK, Jack Kerouac and Elvis Presley

  • Manuscripts including letters and literary/historical pieces from Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Jack London, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Madame Blavatsky, W. B. Yeats, Celia Thaxter and Sarah Orne Jewett, among many. Kent has extensive experience in the research and acquisition of rare books & manuscripts - especially the Transcendentalists of 19th century New England: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Peabody et al

  • Built what a rare book expert called a “spectacular book collection” See statement below for details.

  • Lectured around the country on “Walden to Graceland: 200 Years of Asian Spiritual Traditions in Western Thought” (see, e.g. the article, “The Asian Soul of Transcendentalism”)


Paul Hawken, Environmentalist, Entrepreneur and Author
Kent Bicknell, a scholar and collector of books owned by the Transcendentalists, provided extraordinary insight in the form of original letters, annotated books from Thoreau’s personal library, correspondence from Gandhi, and from his own research. His contribution amplified and explored the influence of Asian spiritual traditions on this global movement, a vein so rich that it is worthy of a book in itself. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World, p. 303 (2007).

Glenn Horowitz, Bookseller Extraordinaire (click here)
In my multiple decades of dealing in rare books and manuscripts rarely have I encountered a collector with the range of knowledge and tenacity of spirit shown by Dr. Kent Bicknell. In the universe of 19th century American literature and culture there are only a handful of other people---for the most part professional academics---whose judgment and knowledge I trust the way I do his. Kent brings both bibliographical and biographical moxie to the still unlit cul-de-sacs of collecting. He has been a great resource to me, and knowing he is just an email away lightens the anxiety I feel when confronted by a mystery for which I have no solution.

Brenda Wineapple, Biographer and Professor
Kent Bicknell is a collector of rare discernment and generosity. To him, I owe a debt of gratitude for his willingness to share treasures, even allowing me to cart away a box of special papers; to him and Karen Bicknell, many thanks for allowing me to camp out in their house while I furiously copied manuscripts.” Hawthorne: A Life, p. 488 (2003).

Ken Lopez, Appraiser and Past President of the American Antiquarian Booksellers Association on a Collection Built by Kent Bicknell
This is a spectacular collection that consists of two distinct groupings. The first is material by Louisa May Alcott and works by or pertaining to others in her family; this is largely material from the 19th century. The second is related, but is broader in scope and in time: it focuses on great streams of thought in Western culture and literature and ranges from the 17th to the 21st century. The value of the two collections, built over a period of 25 years, has more than doubled since the original purchases.

The Louisa May Alcott and Alcott Family Collection is wide-ranging and comprehensive, and includes unique materials, extremely rare items, scarce and significant items, and some relatively ordinary 19th century editions. Finding comparables for a number of the items in the collection was very difficult because of their scarcity: some had no auction records, going back 50 years or more, and many had no comparable items being offered for sale currently. The collection has substantial research value, both because of the rare and unique items and also because of the family copies of a number of the books – copies owned by one or another of the Alcott family members, gifted by them, etc. This kind of documentation of a literary family is rare, and the collections that provide such documentation are usually in research libraries, having been assembled over decades or more from a wide variety of sources. There is no doubt that this is the best collection in private hands documenting one of the leading literary families in American history.

The larger collection focuses on both the significant individuals in the Western literary canon and also the ideas that have driven Western culture and shaped its artistic, philosophical and moral dimensions as they have evolved over time, from the Renaissance to the present day. One thread of the collection consists of the works of Shakespeare as they were kept and used by notable figures in Western culture, from Melville and Darwin, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Another thread comprises works of and by Henry David Thoreau, whose writings helped define the American view of the natural world and, in keeping with his friends among the Transcendentalists, helped imbue nature with divinity. As such, Thoreau’s Manual of Buddhism, which he bequeathed to Bronson Alcott on his deathbed and was carried to Alcott by Ralph Waldo Emerson, becomes a volume that encapsulates a moment in time and also embodies an idea that became fundamental to the American national identity.

The larger collection is filled with books that share those characteristics – capturing a specific individual’s engagement with a work or an author, and shedding light on the way in which this individual or this activity resonated with the larger society. The collection has great depths because of such items, which are important in more than one way and for more than one reason. A section of the collection that focuses on Authors and Artists sheds light on the individuals themselves, and illuminates the influences on their arts. The section of Historical Figures does the same, for individuals associated with the sciences or with industry or politics.

Many of the items in this collection are from the libraries of historically significant people, often annotated by them, and revealing in ways that are both personal and historical. It is a collection that strives to reveal the texture of history and thought by showing the influences on those who themselves became influential.

In terms of its intellectual scope, the whole collection is more ambitious than most institutional holdings tend to be. It is not limited only to individuals for whom there is an obvious connection – e.g., the Alcotts, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and their crowd – but also includes their predecessors and their cultural descendants, from Cotton Mather to Mahatma Gandhi to Jack Kerouac and Elvis Presley.

Again, this is a spectacular book collection. (April 2018)