Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2018 Issue

Huge Fire Destroys Most of the Collections in the National Museum of Brazil

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Flames raced through the National Museum of Brazil, destroying virtually everything in sight.

A tragedy of immense proportions struck Brazil on the night of September 2. Its National Museum was consumed by flames, a fire so great that almost nothing was left but the shell of the building. Flames leapt from virtually every window and through the roof. Early estimates were that 90% of what was inside was lost. Much of what survived was in a separate annex building. There is hope that a few more durable items will be found when sifting through the debris. Perhaps the oldest known skeleton of a human from America will be found. However, even rock and fossil collections are not likely to have survived as the intense heat can deform even these.

 

There is some good news for those whose interests are focused on books and paper documents. The central library was located in the annex which was spared. However, that doesn't mean all such paper survived. Books and other paper part of special collections were also housed within the main building. The Francesca Keller Library of 37,000 items pertaining to social anthropology was housed in the main building. If the heat was such that even fossils are not likely to have survived, paper will be nothing but ashes. It is the paper within the collections that is believed to be part of what fueled the fire and enabled it to spread so rapidly. By the time the fire department arrived, there was little hope, a problem exacerbated by fire hydrants that did not work.

 

The sad reality is that the National Museum of Brazil has not been well cared for. Budget cuts had left it vulnerable to numerous sorts of catastrophe. Maintenance was mostly ignored. At times, it had to close to the public for lack of funds. The enormous amount of money spent on hosting the 2016 Olympics in Rio further reduced available funds. The museum's plight was ignored for years. Now it is too late.

 

The day after the fire, large crowds of people gathered to protest the government's neglect of its treasures. Some described it as the loss of the history of Brazil, so much of its past, going back to the times of pre-history, was lost.

 

There is a message in all this to libraries across the world. It is unlikely that many substantial libraries in the West are in quite the state of neglect as was the museum of Brazil. However, smaller libraries, and many in less prosperous countries, undoubtedly face risks similar to those of the National Museum of Brazil. Obviously, greater care is a necessity. Fire damage isn't the only risk, as other calamities, from floods to theft plague libraries everywhere. Books are not the easiest of things to preserve. Still, no amount of care can guarantee the survival of delicate material for all eternity. Old books can only slowly disappear. They cannot be replaced. It is not a total solution, but the digitization of old books, and particularly one-of-a-kind documents and manuscripts, is critical to their survival. It is not the same as holding the original piece of paper, but it can preserve the words and the images. This process has been going on through the current century, but it needs to continue until every historic document has been digitally preserved. Otherwise, it may be just a matter of time.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Frederick Douglass, ALS recruiting help for his paper after schism with Garrison, Rochester, 1851. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> James Dean, photograph by Sanford H. Roth, signed & inscribed by Dean. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Richard Wagner, ALS requesting confirmation that the Grand Duke received his letter, 1863. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Benjamin Rush, ALS, doctor’s note for a Revolutionary soldier, 1780. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Lord Byron, ALS to Cambridge classmate, “your friendship is of more account to me than all these absurd vanities,” c. 1812. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author’s first book, Paris, 1923. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Ralph Ellison, <i>Invisible Man,</i> first English edition of the author’s first novel, signed, London, 1953. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Margery Lawrence, <i>The Madonna of Seven Moons,</i> first edition in unrestored dust jacket, Indianapolis, 1933. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Joseph Albers, <i>Interaction of Color,</i> 80 color screenprints, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1963. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Albert Einstein, autograph manuscript, unsigned, likely a draft discarded while working toward a unified field theory. $10,000 to $20,000.
  • <center><b>The Collectors’ Sale<br>March 3, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Verlag, Luzern, Publishers: <i>The Book of Kells,</i> the most precious illuminated manuscript of the early Middle Ages, now reproduced, the FIRST AND ONLY COMPLETE FINE ART FACSIMILE EDITION. €5,000 to €6,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone,</i> 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1997, First Deluxe Edn., Signed by the Author on title page. €4,000 to €5,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Gilbert (John T.) Account of Facsimiles of National Manuscripts of Ireland, from the earliest extant specimens to A.D. 719. €2,000 to €3,000.
    <center><b>The Collectors’ Sale<br>March 3, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> <i>The Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth-Century Domestic Architecture in Dublin [-Ireland],</i> 5 vols. lg. 4to D. 1909 - 1913. Limited Editions. €1,500 to €2,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Yeats (W.B.) <i>The Poems of W.B. Yeats,</i> 2 vols., roy 8vo, L. (MacMillan & Co.) 1949, Limited Edn., No. 185 (of 375 copies). Signed. €1,500 to €2,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Crone (John S.)ed. <i>The Irish Book Lover, A Monthly Review of Irish Literature and Bibliography.</i> Vol. I No 1 August 1909 - Vol. XXXII No. 6, September 1957. €1,250 to €2,000.
    <center><b>The Collectors’ Sale<br>March 3, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Yeats (John Butler) <i>An original self-portrait Sketch,</i> Signed and dated April 1919, N[ew] York. €1,200 to €1,500.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Photograph Album. Entitled ''A Souvenir of the Visit to Jeypore Samasthanam of His Excellency the Right Hon'ble Viscount Goschen of Hawkhurst… 14th December 1927''. €1,000 to €1,500.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Pistolesi (Erasmo) <i>Il Vaticano,</i> 8vols. large atlas, folio Rome (Tipografia della Societa..) 1829. €500 to €600.
    <center><b>The Collectors’ Sale<br>March 3, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Chagall (Marc)illus., Legmarie (Jean) comp., <i>The Jerusalem Windows,</i> folio N.Y. (George Braziller) 1962. €400 to €500.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Bullitt (Thos. W.) <i>My Life at Oxmoor,</i> Life on a Farm in Kentucky before the War. Roy 8vo Louisville, Kentucky, 1911. Privately Printed No. 86 of 100 Copies Only. €300 to €400.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Mar. 3:</b> Popish Plot: Oates (Titus) <i>The Popes Whore House or The Merchandise of The Whore of Rome,</i> folio L. 1679. First Edn. €100 to €150.

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