By  on March 16, 2005

DALLAS — Merchant kings Stanley Marcus and James Cash Penney helped define U.S. retailing and consumerism. From Marcus’ “quest for the best’’ mantra to Penney’s egalitarian approach to selling, they built vastly different retail empires from shared visions of value and social responsibility.

They also shared an affinity for Southern Methodist University, the dominant institution of higher education in their Dallas hometown. And now, the university’s DeGolyer Library is a scholarly repository for their private correspondence, books, photographs and other archival materials that help reveal the professional and personal passions that shaped these two iconic careers.

“Both collections provide important insights into retail history and consumer culture in the United States,” said Russell Martin, director of the library. “The Stanley Marcus Collection is astounding. There are books on art, art history, literature, business, history and fashion, collected in great depth and with a discriminating eye. The collection will support teaching and research in many disciplines.’’

The J.C. Penney materials constitute “a stunning collection that adds a rich new dimension of insightful retail history and consumer culture to our existing archives,” Martin said.

The Marcus archives focus on the years 1947 to 1995, chronicling his career in the business — founded in Dallas in 1907 by his aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman, her husband, Abraham Lincoln Neiman, and Marcus’ father, Herbert Marcus Sr. — that now includes 35 luxury stores across the U.S. It also features among its 12,000 books first-edition works of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis, and quirky items such as Sophia Loren’s cookbook with a personal note to Marcus in Italian.

“The Marcus papers will provide researchers with information on various fields, including the fashion industry, business, history, Dallas and U.S. history, civil rights and others,” said Alex Lorch, who completed his master’s degree in history at SMU with a thesis on Marcus’ support of civil liberties and civil rights.

The library’s J.C. Penney Center for Retail Excellence houses materials ranging from 20,000 photographs detailing the origin, growth and operations of J.C. Penney Co., which includes more than 1,000 U.S. stores, to the wedding dress of the founder’s wife.

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