Dashiell Hammett collection goes to the University of South Carolina

A collection of Dashiell Hammett's papers and his books has been acquired by the University of South Carolina, the university announced Wednesday.

The archive includes letters between Hammett and his family, including love notes sent to his pregnant future wife, Josephine "Jose" Dolan, in 1921. Hammett was then a Pinkerton detective; the next year he send his first short story to H.L. Mencken, launching his career as a writer.

Hammett is best known for inventing the character Sam Spade, the private detective at the center of his book "The Maltese Falcon," played in the film by Humphrey Bogart. Before Sam Spade, Hammett earned fame for his gritty detective fiction featuring the Continental Op, a nameless private detective in San Francisco.

He also connected with audiences with his novel "The Thin Man," in which a hard-drinking couple couple solve crimes in New York. Roughly based on the bantering relationship he had with the writer Lillian Hellman, "The Thin Man" was successfully adapted to film, so popular that Hollywood made several sequels.

Near the end of his life, when he stopped publishing fiction, he was an outspoken advocate for free speech, freedom of association and privacy, speaking out against the Hollywood Un-American Activities Committee and supporting the Hollywood 10.

The collection of family letters includes those between the opinionated Hellman and Hammett's children from his marriage (he never divorced his wife, but lived with Hellman for 30 years). In a release, the university describes them as "Seventy letters written by Hellman from 1951-1977 [that] reveal her treatment of his family and his estate."

The new Hammett collection also includes the archive of Richard Hayman, the author's biographer and trustee of the Hammett Literary Property Trust who has spent 40 years writing about and researching Hammett and his work.

In all, the collection includes 300 first editions of Hammett's books, plus many subsequent editions; 150 original family photographs; screenplays; 42 original issues of the pulp magazine Black Mask that contain Hammett's stories; movie posters and memorabilia; hundreds of letters by Hammett, some previously unpublished; and Hammett's original Pinkerton Detective badge.

The University of South Carolina is on its way to becoming a destination for those interested in detective fiction; its collection includes the James Ellroy archive, the George V. Higgins archive and the papers of Elmore Leonard.

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