Erle Stanley Gardner Study
Collection Dates: ca. 1795–1970 (bulk 1930–1967)
Size: approximately 1,500 items
Access: Item-level descriptions are available in a searchable database. An appointment is required. Please note that some material is restricted, i.e., not available for research.
Contact: Performing Arts staff
The archive of Perry Mason creator and detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner (1889–1970) was acquired by the Ransom Center between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. From 1972 to 2010, a full-scale replica of Gardner's study, an addition to his ranch home in Temecula, California, was on display at the University's Flawn Academic Center. Peering through the windows of the room-within-a-room, visitors could view Gardner's enormous oak desk, a towering chest of drawers, and numerous bookcases filled with not only reading material but also Gardner's personal belongings, gifts from friends, and artifacts and souvenirs from around the world. Also on display were first editions of many of Gardner's books, honorary police badges, and photographs of Gardner and friends. Native American rugs, filing cabinets, a large safe, and comfortable chairs completed the décor.
The study was packed with more than 1,500 items displayed on every available surface. Personal mementos and decorative objects shared space with dictating equipment and other tools of the writer's trade such as an IBM Executary dictating machine and a Webcor "Regent" reel-to-reel tape recorder, both essential to Gardner's method of working. Many of the larger pieces were hung jauntily from the ceiling or secured to the walls, giving the room a delightfully informal feel, with smaller items tucked away inside drawers. A closer exploration of the study could reveal surprises. A charming set of marlinspike knives, each in the shape of a shrimp, was found in a desk drawer, and a wooden box with elaborate mother-of-pearl inlay, deceptively simple in its functionality, transformed unexpectedly into a lovely traveling vanity case when unfolded. Noise-making objects and musical instruments were present, including gongs, drums, maracas, flutes, folk violins, rattles, and castanets. An ornate incense burner reputedly made during the Ch'ien-lung period of the Great Ch'ing dynasty was given pride of place on top of Gardner's desk, and boxes of incense were stashed in various places throughout the study.
Gardner filled the study with a spectacular selection of weaponry. Rifles, pistols, knives, swords, and bows and arrows were complemented by examples of nearly every conceivable non-mechanical weapon, including spears and spear throwers, lances, clubs, and axes. Of particular note are a zip gun, rusted but still functional, and a handmade blowgun with dart tips fashioned from screwdrivers.
The study contained ample evidence of Gardner's friendly relationship with law enforcement personnel. The walls were adorned with dozens of honorary badges and certificates given to Gardner by sheriff's departments in California and Texas, such as the plaque given to Gardner by C. V. "Buster" Kern, the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, from 1949 until 1972. Suspended from the ceiling was a powder horn inscribed with the name of Alfredo Hernandez, most likely a reference to the notorious bandit who terrorized West Texas and the Hill Country in the 1960s before being captured in 1966. Gardner may have received the powder horn as a gift from an officer in Texas. Gardner also enjoyed cowboy gear, and his collection includes Stetson hats, lariats, reins and halters, a brace of longhorn steer horns, and a magnificent pair of spurs from South America.
Gardner accumulated artifacts and art from cultures worldwide. He indulged his taste for Mesoamerican-inspired art by acquiring figural sculptures and plaques with Mesoamerican motifs. Among the items he collected from indigenous cultures of the Americas are three miniature totem poles carved by Kwakwaka'wakw artist Charlie James and a quartet of woven wool rugs, most likely Navajo in origin. He was also fond of Polynesian and Asian-themed art, especially statuettes and masks.
Gardner loved Mexico, and several honorary plaques and certificates from Mexican localities demonstrate that the affection was mutual. His interest in the archaeology of Baja California was such that in 1962 he funded a research trip led by Dr. Clement Meighan. The "Gardner Cave" in Sonora was discovered on this trip, and a box of artifacts most likely retrieved from the cave was displayed in a special case in the study.
Arranged on the walls outside the study at the Flawn Academic Center was an exhibition of approximately 250 of Gardner's personal effects, dating from 1804 to 1971 (bulk ca. 1950–1969), complemented by books from his personal library. These personal effects are collectively known as the Erle Stanley Gardner Exhibition at the Flawn Academic Center and are accessible via the costumes and personal effects database.
The study and exhibition were disassembled in 2010, and all of the objects are stored at the Ransom Center. Paintings and drawings previously displayed in the study, or in the exhibit surrounding the study, are housed in the Ransom Center's art collection, as is the Erle Stanley Gardner art collection. Wax cylinders, vinyl discs, reel-to-reel tapes, and dictabelts found with Gardner's recording equipment were transferred to Ransom Center's sound recordings collection. The manuscripts collection holds Gardner's voluminous papers, including scripts for the Perry Mason radio show and documents from Gardner's "Court of Last Resort." Gardner's personal library is located in the Center's book collection. Personal effects that were not on display at the Flawn Academic Center are located in the personal effects collection.