The rarest, most special items are found in the Rare Books Room on the second floor of the Central Library. This beautiful space includes a climate controlled book area and a reception room. It was dedicated in 2001 in honor of Richard E. Krug, city librarian from 1941 to 1975 and his wife Lucile Krug, whose generosity endowed construction of the Room and continues funding for the Krug Educational Program series of lectures.
The Rare Books collection of more than 6,000 items includes pieces of special value, such as signed first editions, books and ephemera published before 1868, artist’s books, maps, prints and other items of local historical or cultural significance. The items below are only a sampling of the materials available. A complete list of rarities materials is available in the library’s catalog.
The collection contains a complete set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America prints published from 1826 to 1838, one of only about 120 known sets, and a complete set of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Both sets of prints (435 birds and 150 mammals) are kept in climate controlled cases.
Ethiopian Magic Scroll
Magic scrolls were thought to hold protective and healing powers. Their text was often excerpted from the gospels and other sacred books. The scrolls were designed for particular individuals and/or their families. This scroll was produced in 1890.
The Autograph Book
This unique book contains approximately 2,300 signatures of prominent Americans collected between 1896 and 1898 to raise funds for Milwaukee's monument to its Union soldiers, “Victorious Charge.” Signatures were sent by presidents, politicians, artists, authors and other celebrities. Famous contributors include Booker T. Washington, Queen Liliuokiani, Thomas Alva Edison, Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain, who wrote “Do not use your morals week-days. It gets them out of repair for Sunday.”
This book, considered one of the most beautiful books of the Renaissance was published by Aldine Press in 1499. The library is pleased to have one of the few copies of the book in Wisconsin.
Among the Library's most beautiful one of a kind treasures is Voices of Friends Concerning John Plankinton, an early 20th century version of an illuminated manuscript commissioned by Elizabeth Plankinton in honor of her late father. Artist Susan Frackelton painted the illustrations and her daughter Gladys lettered the testimonials of his friends.
The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885) is the most famous of all his canvases and is frequently reproduced. The donor, Rene Von Schleinitz, gave his collection of German Romantic paintings to the Milwaukee Art Museum, but reserved this one especially for the Milwaukee Public Library.
Artists’ books are works of art realized in the form of a book, often published in small editions or as a unique piece. Virtually any materials can be used, including traditional art materials, found objects and photographs old and new.
The rarities collection contains a selective collection of Japanese ukiyo woodblock prints from the Edo period (17th – 20th century). These delicate prints depict an evanescent “floating world” of fleeting beauty and temporal pleasures, rather than realistic everyday life.
Krug Educational Series Programming
To expand awareness and increase enjoyment of the many treasures in the Rare Book Room, Lucile Krug endowed an ongoing series of educational programs. Past presentations and exhibits have highlighted the Audubon prints, artists’ books, the legacy of Increase A. Lapham, and the lives and works of Susan Frackelton and August Derleth.
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