The New York Public Library as we know it today began with the merging of three private collections, those of James Lenox, John Jacob Astor and Samuel J. Tilden (hence the library’s official name: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations). Since then many other fabulously wealthy New York bibliofreaks have donated collections of their own, often centered around a personal obsession. Here’s a snack-sized run-down of some notable ones:
The Spencer Collection of Illustrated Books and Manuscripts and Fine Bindings
Summary: William Augustus Spencer went down with the Titanic. Thankfully his collection of opulently bound illustrated books didn’t.
Standout: Almost everything is illuminated
The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature
Summary: Thank God for book-loving physicians.
Standout: A copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, lovingly inscribed by Wilde to Reading Governor Major James Ormond Nelson.
The George Arents Collection on Tobacco
Summary: Yes, tobacco.
Standout: Any of the compendiums of poems celebrating the “divine weed.”
The George Arents Collection of Books in Parts
Summary: George Arents wasn’t just into cigarettes. He was also really into books published piecemeal over a period of time, sort of like blogs.
Standout: A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls by G.K. Chesterton.
The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle
Summary: Financier Carl H. Pforzheimer, Sr. was secretly emo.
Standout: Harriet Westbrooke Shelley’s suicide letter.
The Martin J. Gross Collection of Voltaire and His Contempories
Summary: Superstars of the French Enlightenment.
Standout: The very rare first Irish printing of Candide in English.
The Leonard B. Schlosser Collection on the History of Papermaking
Summary: Paper exec and connoisseur Leonard B. Schlosser reminds you that we would never have gotten anywhere as a species without paper.
Standout: Carrot-slice paper.