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Apr. 25, 2012

Vol. 112, No. 11

Features

Hidden Treasure

Unexpected ­Discoveries in Firestone Library

By Jennifer Altmann
Published in the April 25, 2012, issue


Pharaonic Roll No. 5, Believed to be the oldest book in Firestone Library. Dates from the New Kingdom, 18th dynasty (1549–1292 bce). The rolls were part of an extensive collection of manuscripts amassed by Robert Garrett 1897.
MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION, DEPARTMENT OF RARE BOOKS AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY LIBRARY; GIFT OF ROBERT GARRETT 1897
Pharaonic Roll No. 5, Believed to be the oldest book in Firestone Library. Dates from the New Kingdom, 18th dynasty (1549–1292 bce). The rolls were part of an extensive collection of manuscripts amassed by Robert Garrett 1897.

FOUND: Five Egyptian funerary texts, written on rolls of papyrus, ­dating from the time of the Pharaohs.

WHEN: In 1991 by curator Don Skemer. They were stored in tin boxes that ­probably were made in Egypt in the 1920s and tucked away in two drawers.

MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION, DEPARTMENT OF RARE BOOKS AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY LIBRARY; GIFT OF WILLIAM G. MENNEN JR. ’36

FOUND: A rare souvenir copy of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which ­upon ­ratification abolished slavery in the United States. Produced in 1864 or 1865, the copy was signed by Abraham Lincoln ­shortly before he was ­assassinated. 

WHEN: Two years ago by a library cataloger in a large miscellaneous collection called “General Manuscripts, Oversized.”

 
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5 Responses to Unexpected ­Discoveries in Firestone Library

Charles Ruas '60 *70 Says:

2012-05-02 09:27:27

It reminds me that I am very reluctant to donate original manuscripts to Princeton, much as I want to, because I do not know if they can handle the material. Have they applied to the Leon Levy, Shelby White Foundation for grants to fund archival library work? They donated the funds for creating a library at the Institute for Advance Study.

Don Skemer Says:

2012-05-02 14:09:13

In reference to Professor Ruas' comment, I would like to add some information as curator of manuscripts, responsible for the Arthur Symons Papers and some 1,400 other collections in the manuscripts division. The Arthur Symons Papers, including the watercolors, were donated to Princeton some 60 years ago, when the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections had almost no staff to deal with manuscripts. In addition, Gwen John did not sign the watercolors nor inscribe the albums in which she put them. Nor did Arthur Symons, who admired Gwen John as an artist, ever identify the watercolors. The American artist and art collector A.E. Gallatin, who donated the Symons papers to the library, failed to do so as well. Fortunately, we now have a very able professional staff to deal with new accessions and improve access to older collections, such as the Arthur Symons Papers. This department also receives substantial external funding from public agencies and private foundations.

Allen Scheuch '76 Says:

2012-05-08 17:21:39

I am saddened to read Charles Ruas' comment for several reasons. First and foremost, the Princeton Library has a superb staff whose work is admired the world 'round and whose expertise, dedication, and success are extraordinary. It is patently unfair to characterize an institution on the basis of a few inadvertent missteps. Isn't a lost manuscript or two, an album, artwork, volume, etc. to be expected over several centuries and among the many thousands of notable achievements? Ever it shall be thus. (And isn't it thrilling when something wonderful is unearthed?) Second, every collector must choose to donate for their own reasons, and among those often lie (thankfully) the allegiance and excitement one has to/for the institution of choice, as well as how effectively one believes the item(s) will be used. Having made several donations to the Princeton Library, I have had the distinct pleasure of seeing them "put to work" quickly and effectively, through exhibition and research. (The library staff communicated their use by email, and I saw the exhibits). My donations have been beautifully cataloged and stored. I haven't a single regret and am perfectly delighted by the way they were received and treated. I can only encourage others to take advantage of the opportunity to donate their collections or items to Princeton's Firestone Library (and the other libraries that house the University's remarkable web of collections) that they might be shared with future generations of some of the sharpest and most appreciative minds on the planet. My primary interest is in graphic arts, and I encourage anyone to peruse curator Julie Melby's fascinating, thorough blog for that department: http://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/ Best wishes from Brooklyn!

David Paton '52 Says:

2012-05-08 17:26:18

I would like to be in touch with Firestone Library regarding the whereabouts of Egyptian books that include some by my namesake (whom I never knew) donated in the 1920s. Both of us received honorary degrees from Princeton -- his was for work as an Egyptologist and the donation of his book collection to the library. There is a plaque that honors him on a campus building. I was sorry to discover he was not mentioned in the related article about early translations recently featured in PAW, but would be very interested to know if his collection is still on file at Firestone.

Charles Ruas '60 *70 Says:

2012-09-21 09:23:28

My previous comments sound distorted because I mean that I have manuscripts and material that I want to contribute to the library but have not had the time to begin the process. I loved the library and the rare-book collection both as an undergraduate and graduate student, because it was at the heart of my education.
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