What’s your favorite book from your own personal collection that is now in the Newberry?
—Burt Biblee, East Lansing, MI
My Dear Mr Biblee,
Would that I could honor your Query with a decisive brevity befitting a Gentleman of my stature. However, your submission, I am afraid, falls within that interrogative Class your peers might call the “TRICK QUESTION.” As such, I must submit the following rambling Reply—one for which you surely did not bargain, Dear Biblee.
You see, contrary the Origins of other Research Libraries, the Newberry did not sprout from the Seeds of its founder’s Personal Collection. No, no: my own library, my beautiful array of leather-bound Tomes, perished in the Chicago Fire of 1871. The flames that consumed my fair city raged with a Passion for learning—a passion quenched in the very Spot in which I once recited Chaucer with great relish. One searching for proof of a Higher Being need look no further than the merciful circumstance of my own Earthly fire having been extinguished three years previously. Surely, bearing witness to the destruction of my Treasures would have entailed a spiritual death a thousand times worse than any corporeal one.
In any event, I digress (I forewarned you of this rambling Reply, did I not?). Without the foundation of an existing collection, the Newberry’s earliest stewards secured more than a few key acquisitions—with a determination to which the only Just & Proper recognition must be the doffing of one’s top hat.
One method for adding girth to the Newberry collection was the purchase of private collections en bloc. One such collection was that of Henry Probasco, a Cincinnatian. Newberry Librarian William Frederick Poole had been familiar with the collection since his Time operating the Cincinnati Public Library, of whose Board Probasco was a part. Probasco’s library boasted such Treasures as signed Grolier bindings, 88 rare Bibles, 3 Shakespeare folios, and the elephant folio of Audubon’s Birds. Poole hounded the Newberry Board until purchase was made, in 1890. The acquisition was widely celebrated, although one Chicago Daily, doubting the items’ utility, called them “antique lard cans.”
Oh, the days mass media kept up with library collections as much as it did the Kardashians!