Those of us who grew up in the Northeast thought American history began in 1620, when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. But decades before that, the Spanish settled St. Augustine, and even earlier, the French came to what is now Jacksonville [Florida]. Equally important are the native civilizations of the Americas --sophisticated cultures that thrived here long before Columbus.

-- Jay I. Kislak, Collector

Seated male figure. Las Bocas, Mexico. Olmec, 1100–500 B.C. Cream-slipped ceramic sculpture. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division (21.2) © Justin Kerr

More than a collector, Jay Kislak is a discoverer. His inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge have inspired a lifelong love of books. Mr. Kislak and his wife, Jean, are avid collectors with far-ranging interests and the connoisseur's eye for quality.

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Mr. Kislak graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and served as a naval aviator during World War II. After the war, he entered the real estate brokerage and mortgage banking business founded by his father in 1906.

Early in his career, Mr. Kislak moved to Florida and began a fifty-year exploration of the early history of his new home. Attracted to rare maps and books, he began amassing a comprehensive collection on early Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica. Over the years, his interest deepened, and he acquired many rare books and manuscripts, focusing especially on the early years of European exploration.

Mr. Kislak and his wife, a former art curator, expanded their collecting to include artifacts produced by indigenous civilizations before Columbus. As a book collector, Mr. Kislak was intrigued by the art of the Maya--a highly literate culture that developed a complex system of hieroglyphs used to record their history in various ways: on architectural elements, pottery, personal items, as well as in books.

With Jay Kislak's gift to the Library, thousands of books and artifacts will become available to researchers and the public, through scholarly and education programs and exhibitions.