Preserve Rare Books
The George Peabody Library, home to more than 300,000 books that date as far back as the 15th century, has received a $325,000 Save America's Treasures grant to improve the library's ability to preserve its rich and unique research collection.
The money will be spent to upgrade and modernize the heating and air conditioning system in historic George Peabody Library, which opened in 1878. Its striking atrium style reading room, with a 61-foot ceiling and skylight, ranks among the most beautiful library spaces in the world, yet also poses significant preservation challenges.
"In that vast open space, it's very difficult to get that air equally balanced," said Cynthia Requardt, head of special collections for the Sheridan Libraries at The Johns Hopkins University, which include the George Peabody Library. The existing heating and air conditioning system was installed in 1976, she said.
"The improvements made possible by this grant will address the urgent preservation needs of what is widely considered to be one of the finest 19th- century library collections -- a carefully planned collection built on a model of acquiring the world's best books," said Winston Tabb, dean of university libraries at Johns Hopkins.
The Peabody Library collection includes a fine copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili printed by Aldus Mantius in 1499 and other rare books, maps and manuscripts, including Ptolemy's Geographia (Strassburg, 1513), and an 18th century French edition of Maria Sibylla Merian's stunning book on the insects of Suriname, Histoire Generales des Insectes du Surinam et de toute l'Europe, which contains some of the most beautiful plates ever printed.
The Library also owns such treasures as the Kelmscott Chaucer, published by William Morris and intended to be not only a book, but a work of art, worthy of the quality of the earliest books. Printed in 1896, the book's exquisite woodcuts and letter-press printing give it the appearance of being printed in the 15th century, not long after the printing of the Gutenberg Bible.
Other holdings include significant personal libraries, such as that of author and statesman John Pendelton Kennedy, who served as secretary of the Navy at the time of Admiral Perry's expedition to Japan. The library's exceptional collection has attracted many important scholars, including Johns Hopkins' first president, Daniel Coit Gilman; poet Sidney Lanier and author John Dos Passos. H.L. Mencken worked on his The American Language at the library.
The library is currently closed and will reopen later this year, after the new system has been installed and other renovations are completed. Administered through the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service, Save America's Treasures grants are to help preserve the nation's most historic sites and its cultural heritage. Established by philanthropist George Peabody, the library was given to Baltimore City. In 1982, it became part of the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins.
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