AE Monthly

Articles - June - 2009 Issue

Liberty & the American Revolution

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Homage to a Collector


By Bruce McKinney

Princeton University, the alma mater of Sid Lapidus, has published an exhibition catalogue, Liberty & the American Revolution, to accompany the display of material that Mr. Lapidus is donating to the university on the 50th anniversary of his graduation. The exhibition, which opened on 28 May, continues to 3 January, 2010 on the Princeton campus at the Firestone Library.

"The exhibition features 157 important books, pamphlets, and prints exemplary of the major themes of Lapidus's collecting: the intellectual origins of the American Revolution, the revolution itself, the early years of the republic, the spread of democratic ideas in the Atlantic world, and the concomitant effort to abolish the slave trade in both Great Britain and the United States. These items, presented as gifts to the Library on the occasion of the exhibition, were selected from the more than 2,500 books in the Lapidus collection because each offers a distinctive voice in telling the story of expanding liberty. The books range in date from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. Their authors vary widely: young and old, male and female, black and white, learned and self-taught. Yet, through them all, one can hear these voices returning to themes still very much with us today, such as the characteristics of a just society and respect for the equality of fellow human beings." -

Friends of the Princeton University Library Newsletter No. 28, Spring 2009.

As Mr. Lapidus explains in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue created by Princeton to honor and commemorate the gift:

"Almost from the beginning of my book collecting career, I had an inkling of what I would spend almost a lifetime collecting. The principal theme of my collection was even embedded in the title of the first rare book I purchased, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, but it took years before I became aware that this theme related to "rights" and "liberties" in the eighteenth century. That realization began to dawn on me as I prepared for the exhibit at Princeton's Firestone Library in October 1991 of twenty-one pamphlets from my collection. The pamphlets were British and American imprints from 1764 through 1776, the period when the American colonists traveled along what I called "The Road to Independence."

The overriding theme, pamphlets and related material primarily from the period 1760 to 1800, continues today, now further elaborated as a coat of many colors; Revolutionary Origins, the American Crisis, Contagious Liberty, and Abolition of the Slave Trade. Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books at the Firestone Library describes the Lapidus collection as "rare and important material gathered from discriminating sources. In short: a gem."

Much of the collection has been acquired during the past twenty years as Mr. Lapidus has widened his focus, the outcome of which is his gift to Princeton, this exhibition and catalogue.

AE Monthly


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