Library Receives Rare and Valuable Items From the Collection of
5, 2000 -- Six
letters penned by Thomas Jefferson, including one that contains
his most famous quotation on the subject of slavery.
rare edition of Christopher Columbus' first-hand account of
the discovery of the New World.
transcript of the trial of abolitionist John Brown, signed by the
judge who presided over the case.
are among the more than 400 items the University
of Virginia Library received from the estate of noted American
collector and philanthropist Paul Mellon. His collection of rare
books, manuscripts, maps and atlases, pertaining primarily to Virginia
and American history, made him "the greatest American book
collector of the second half of the 20th century,"
according to one expert.
treasure-trove of historical items given to U.Va. is cause for celebration,"
said Peter S. Onuf, U.Va. Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor
Jefferson letters include one written to John Holmes, former senator
from Maine, dated April 22, 1820. In it, Jefferson expresses his
concerns over the Missouri Compromise, which allowed states carved
from the Louisiana Purchase south of Missouri's southern border
to enter the Union as slave states. Jefferson said that the prospect
of this leading to states seceding filled him with terror "like
a fire-bell in the night." Jefferson characterized the country's
slavery crisis by writing, "we have the wolf by the ears, and
we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go."
highlights of the items received by U.Va. include:
a 1494 bound edition of the Christopher Columbus letter in which
he describes his discovery of the New World. The illustrations
are the first attempt by European artists to depict the New World.
Only a few copies survive of this extremely rare edition.
a personal letter written by George Washington on May 20, 1797
to Revolutionary War General William Heath, a friend who served
under Washington during the Revolutionary War.
the second printing of one of the earliest maps of Virginia made
in 1751 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson showing the most inhabited
part of Virginia and containing the whole province of Maryland,
as well as parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Judge Richard Parker's autographed manuscript record of the
trial of John Brown. Judge Parker presided over the trial of the
zealous abolitionist who led the famous raid on Harper's
Ferry in October 1859 and was subsequently found guilty of treason
and sentenced to death.
the best of my knowledge, the collection of printed and manuscript
Americana formed by Mr. Mellon ... was the most important in terms
of the quality and quantity of its contents in private hands at
the time of its dispersal," said William Reese, appraiser of
the collection and an antiquarian bookseller and proprietor of the
William Reese Company of New Haven, Connecticut.
who died in February 1999, willed his collection of more than 1,700
items of Americana and Virginiana to the University of Virginia,
the Virginia Historical Society, and Yale University. Executors
of Mellon's estate established a procedure for dividing the
collection among the institutions. According to Reese, the executors
sought to best serve scholarship by enhancing the existing holdings
of the three institutions receiving the materials. With the cooperation
of the staff of each library, their collections were surveyed and
works that would be duplicates were noted. The libraries were then
asked to prioritize their wish lists.
of U.Va.'s Special
Collections Department, which will house and maintain the Mellon
collection, considered the list carefully and viewed the collection
before making their requests.
are extremely pleased with the items we received from this historically
rich collection," said Michael Plunkett, director of Special
Collections. "In addition to being valuable in their own right,
the Mellon materials immeasurably enrich the library's notable
collections relating to America and Virginia."
Mellon collection, which also includes items from the Revolutionary
and Civil Wars, slavery, Lewis and Clark, Native Americans, and
natural history, is available to the public now and will be fully
cataloged by the end of the year. An exhibition is planned for the
summer of 2001.
"With wisdom to match his generosity, Paul Mellon ensured that
his treasured collections would be placed in the institutions where
they most appropriately belonged," said University Librarian
Karin Wittenborg. "We look forward to sharing these wonderful
documents with our users from around the world."
Mellon, son of Pittsburgh businessman and former Secretary of the
Treasury Andrew W. Mellon, gave generously throughout his life to
the areas of art and culture. Aside from monetary donations to the
National Gallery, where his father donated an art collection that
became the cornerstone of the museum, Paul Mellon and his wife gave
over 900 paintings to the gallery. He also donated various works
of art, literature, and historical materials to numerous public
Mellon was -- considering this [Americana and Virginiana collection]
and his great collections of English illustrated books, atlases,
works on natural history, fine press books, and more -- the greatest
American book collector of the second half of the 20th
century," Reese said.
also bequeathed $500,000 toward construction of U.Va.'s new
Mary and David Harrison Institute of American History, Literature,
and Culture, scheduled for completion in 2003, which will house
the Albert H. Small Special Collections Library and the Mellon collection.
a great day for the library and for the community of scholars and
students at the University and beyond," Onuf said.
Library's Special Collections Department houses the University's
many outstanding collections of rare books and manuscripts. The
primary focus of these collections is American history and literature
in particular, the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American
History and the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.
Among the treasures to be found in Special Collections are: Thomas
Jefferson papers and his architectural drawings of the University
of Virginia, one of the 25 copies of the first printing of the Declaration
of Independence, and the largest single collection of William Faulkner
editions, manuscripts, and personal papers. To learn more about
the resources found in Special Collections, visit their web site
or call (804) 924-3025.
more information about the Mellon bequest, contact Michael Plunkett
at (804) 924-3998. Photographs of the Jefferson "fire-bell"
letter and the letter written by George Washington to General William
Heath are available. Call Melissa Norris at (804) 924-4254 to request
either a print or an electronic copy of the photographs.
Melissa Norris, (804) 924-4254