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Collection Jay I. Kislak Collection

About this Collection

The Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas is composed of important archaeological artifacts, rare books, manuscripts, maps and graphic works of art, which survey the earliest history of the lands that would become known as the Americas. Jay I. Kislak donated the collection to the Library of Congress in 2014. The dates of the collection items range from around 2000 BCE until the twenty-first century. The collection is in English, with Spanish, Dutch, German, and indigenous languages of Nahuatl, Ixil, K’iche (Quiché), and Q’eqchi’ (Kekchi). The collection is arranged in four series: Archaeological Objects, Manuscripts, Graphic Materials, and Books.

The collection includes more than 400 unique three-dimensional objects of pre-Columbian date, documenting the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Pre-Columbian artifacts from more than twenty indigenous cultures, including the Nahua, the Nuudzahui, the lowland and highland Maya, the Taino, the Olmec, the Wari, the Inca, and many others, give a comprehensive overview of the arts of indigenous cultures in the period before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Notable artifacts like the Tortuguero Box, the dynastic codex-style vase with sixty hieroglyphs, and the carved ballplayer relief panel from the ruined Maya city of La Corona are primary sources documenting the language, customs, religion and rituals of the peoples of the Americas.

The Kislak manuscript and rare book collection contains almost one thousand historically important manuscripts. Examples include writings in the hands of Philip II, King of Spain; conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro; Bartolomé de Las Casas; and other individuals prominent in the earliest history of Europeans in the Americas, as well as figures of special significance in the founding and early years of the United States. The latter includes the 1762 diary of George Washington; correspondence of John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Jefferson; drafts of the Anglo-American Treaty of 1806 along with related papers including the correspondence of James Monroe, William Pinkney, Henry Richard Vassall, Baron Holland, and William Eden, Baron Auckland; and documents pertaining to the history of Florida in the nineteenth century. Other notable manuscripts include the field notes of an unknown priest who traveled through the Guatemalan highlands in the mid-sixteenth century and translated prayers, Bible passages, and lists of numbers and important days in the calendar into the indigenous languages of Ixil, K’iche (Quiché), and Q’eqchi’ (Kekchi).

These manuscripts, along with rare books such as the earliest dictionary of the indigenous language of Nahuatl, the Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana (1571) by Alonso de Molina, and the Historia de Nueva-Espana,, printed in Mexico City in 1770, by Francisco Antonio Lorenzana y Butron, as well as early printed archaeological tracts like the Descripcion Historica y Cronologica de las Dos Piedras (1792) by Antonio de Léon y Gama, made it one of the most comprehensive collections of historical materials relating to the period immediately after the arrival in the Americas of Europeans in private hands at the time of its donation to the Library of Congress.

Graphic materials contained in the collections include three important watercolor paintings of scenes from the Popol Vuh, a text recounting the Maya creation by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, a series of eight large paintings of the conquest and the defeat of Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor of Mexico, by an unknown indigenous artist, and early photography of archaeological sites by Désiré Charnay. Important maps like those of Baptista Boazio illustrating the voyages of Sir Francis Drake and the Carta marina navigatoria Portugallen navigations atque tocius cogniti orbis terre marisque, 1516, by the mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller, are significant historical artifacts that round out the collection's holdings.

The entire Jay I. Kislak collection is described in a finding aid.

Description of Series

The Kislak Collection is arranged in four series:

Archaeological Objects, 2000 BCE-1700 CE

Unique three-dimensional objects of pre-Columbian date, documenting the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The descriptions of pre-Columbian materials in this finding aid are, in many cases, donor provided descriptions and have not been verified by the Library of Congress. Material types include amulets, pendants, and other jewelry; bowls, vases, urns and other vessels; figurines, flasks, flints, plaques, and relief carvings. Arranged by donor’s original acquisition number.

Manuscripts, 1501-1998

Historical materials primarily relating to the period immediately after the arrival in the Americas of Europeans. Material types include appointments, bank drafts, court documents, diaries, field notes, land grants, letters, logbooks, resolutions, sailing orders, sea journals, tracts, and wills. Grouped alphabetically into four subseries: Andrew Jackson letters; Anglo-American Treaty of 1806 archive; Collection of Florida history; and General manuscript collection, and alphabetically by title therein. Arrangement within each subseries is alphabetical by author.

Graphic Materials, 1516-1931

Graphic materials include three important watercolor paintings of scenes from the Popol Vuh, the creation myth of the ancient Quiché Maya, by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera; a series of eight large paintings of the conquest and the defeat of Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor of Mexico, by an unknown indigenous artist; and early photography of archaeological sites by Désiré Charnay. Also included are important maps like those of Baptista Boazio illustrating the voyages of Sir Frances Drake and the marina navigatoria Portugallen navigations atque tocius cogniti orbis terre marisque, 1516, by the mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller. Material types include maps, paintings, and photographs. Arranged alphabetically by creator or title.

Books, 1485-2007

Rare books in this series include the earliest dictionary of the indigenous language of Nahuatl, the Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana (1571) by Alonso de Molina, the Historia de Nueva-Espana, printed in Mexico City in 1770, by Francisco Antonio Lorenzana y Butron, and early printed archaeological tracts like the Descripcion Historica y Cronologica de las Dos Piedras (1792) by Antonio de Leon y Gama, as well as more modern works on Florida and the southeastern United States. Arranged alphabetically by author or title.


The Jay I. Kislak Foundation donated the Jay I. Kislak Collection to the Library of Congress in 2004, with additional materials in the form of the Carta Marina and the Schoner Sammelband donated in late 2012.

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