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Spencer adds rich variety of rare books from the 16th through 18th centuries with Eliot S. Berkley Collection

Monday, June 4, 2012

A gift of 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century rare books from Dr. Eliot S. Berkley to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas will offer scholars new insights into the period in such diverse topics as religion, philosophy, military and political history, geography, biography, social commentary, and science. The gift significantly expands Spencer’s holdings of European literature from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment.

“Dr. Berkley’s gift is a tremendous addition to our library. It will be a fantastic resource for scholars who come here,” said Beth Whittaker, head of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. “This gift highlights the profound difference that private support makes to a research library like Spencer.”

A Kansas City native and Harvard graduate, Dr. Berkley received his Ph.D. through Princeton University. He was active in educational and social-action organizations, and founded the International Relations Council in 1954 which continues to reach audiences  to foster an understanding of international affairs  in greater Kansas City.

“Dr. Berkley has an excellent eye for old books and has actively collected them for more than 50 years,” said Dr. Karen Cook, special collections librarian at the Spencer Research Library. “While scholars will study the texts, a wider audience will appreciate the beauty and rarity of the books.” 

Fewer than five European and American libraries report having Appian of Alexandria's history of Roman civil wars (1551) or Diodorus Siculus's history of the Italian city states of Venice, Milan, Mantua, and Ferrara (1548). “Because of Dr. Berkley’s gift, we will have both at Spencer,” said Cook.

One volume, whose vellum or leather covers is  ornamented in gold with family crests, can be traced to noblemen’s libraries and reflects the earlier practice of selling books unbound. Other bindings incorporate more economical materials, such as paper or even recycled medieval manuscripts.

Illustrations printed from engraved copper plates grace the pages of several of the books, Cook said. Those illustrations include maps, battle scenes, landscapes, allegorical images, and portraits that bring the author or the subject of the book to life. For instance, a volume of letters from the courtesan, Ninon de l’Enclos, to the Marquis de Sevigné opens with a charming portrait that helps to explain her many romantic conquests. The portrait of Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury reclining in a woodland scene, placed opposite the title page of his biography, is equally appealing, according to Cook.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the preservation of diverse collections ranging from medieval manuscripts and other rare books to Kansas historical records to national political documents. For more information, visit

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