April 6, 2004 Library of Congress Announces Gift of Kislak Collection

Selected Items Will Be on Display at the Library in the Fall

Public Contact: Phyllis Shapiro (301) 963-8618
Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940

A major collection of rare books, manuscripts, historic documents, maps and art of the Americas has been donated to the Library of Congress by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation of Miami Lakes, Fla. The collection contains some of the earliest records of indigenous peoples in North America and superb objects from the discovery, contact and colonial periods, especially for Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica.

Selections from the Kislak Collection will be on display in the North Gallery of the Library's Great Hall this fall. A permanent display of the collection will be mounted elsewhere in the Thomas Jefferson Building, once the full collection has been received and processed and the exhibit space has been prepared, so that visitors as well as scholars can enjoy and learn from the long history they share with the earliest Americans.

"The Kislak Collection represents a lifetime of collecting informed by passion and intellect," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Jay Kislak understands the individual and collective significance of these objects, as well as their research and cultural value, and he successfully amassed a unique collection that would be impossible to assemble today. The addition of this large collection of more than 4,000 items will greatly enrich the extraordinary holdings of the Library of Congress in this geographical area. I am proud to accept this gift on behalf of the nation."

The donation from the Kislak Foundation also includes a grant to help support the development and dissemination of scholarly work in the culture and history of the Americas, including publications, two annual fellowships and an annual lecture on a topic related to this field of study.

In commenting on the gift, Jay Kislak said: "We established the Kislak Foundation 20 years ago because we wanted to share our collection with scholars and the public, to encourage greater knowledge and understanding of the history and cultures of the Americas. To achieve our aim, there is no institution in the world greater than the Library of Congress. It's certainly the world's most distinguished center of scholarship and knowledge."

While the Kislak Collection focuses on a unique intersection of time and place - the circum-Caribbean region and Mesoamerica during the first encounters and the early years of exploration and discovery in the 16th century - its materials extend from 1200 B.C. (Olmec culture) through the colonial period to the early decades of the United States.

Items in the collection encompass the geography of the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, Mesoamerica and portions of the rest of the Americas. These treasured objects reveal the legacy of America's distant past, during which a rich blend of cultures shaped the new nation.

The collection includes a unique 1516 printed map, the Carta Marina, the first printed navigational chart of the entire world, prepared by cartographer and cosmographer Martin Waldseemller. The inclusion of this world treasure in the Kislak Collection allows that document to rejoin the Waldseemuller 1507 world map, the first map to name America, which the Library of Congress acquired in late May 2003. The two maps had been bound together in a portfolio in the 16th century, which was later acquired by the family of Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg and housed in their castle in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, until the Library's purchase of the 1507 map last year.

More significant, however, than the individual items in this collection is their remarkable synergy. In their diversity of cultures, styles and media, these objects together tell the powerful story of America's earliest history and cultural evolution. It is the desire of Jay Kislak and his wife, Jean, an art historian and consultant, that this gift to the American people increase public awareness of the shared history, culture and artistic expressions of various North American peoples.

Jay Kislak was born in Hoboken, N.J., and received a degree in economics from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. After serving as a naval aviator in World War II, he joined the real estate brokerage and mortgage banking business started by his father in 1906. In 1953 he formed J.I. Kislak Mortgage Corporation in Miami, Fla. Today the Kislak organization has extensive operations in real estate and financial services in Florida and across the country. Last year Kislak was appointed by President Bush to chair the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, a panel that works with the Department of State.

Highlights below provide an introduction to the treasures that are found in the Kislak Collection. Along broad research terms, such as Indigenous America, Early European Encounters with America, Travelers in the Age of the Enlightenment, Pirates and Colonial America (United States), the collection contains the following selected items

  • Five maps created by the Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio to illustrate the 1585-86 voyage and raids of Sir Francis Drake. Included is a map of St. Augustine, the first map of any North American city North of Mexico, in what is now the continental United States.
  • Manuscript documents by Hernando Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas (including an unpublished 16th century five-page autograph letter by Las Casas, among his early pleas for better treatment of indigenous peoples of the Americas).
  • A manuscript "priest's handbook" written in Spanish and two Maya languages (Quiche and Kekchi) and dated 1563, one of the earliest documents written in these highland Maya languages.
  • Two printings of the Columbus letter: the 1493 Latin and the 1494 Basel edition, the latter of which has the first purported illustrations of the New World.
  • The Conquest of Mexico, eight large mural paintings prepared in the second half of the 17th century, depicting the story of Cortes' entry into Mexico, 1519-1522.
  • Three Techialoyan (Aztec Mixtec) manuscripts from the early 1700s on bark paper (amatl), one of which is an indigenous map of the area of San Juan Tolcayuca, Mexico.
  • George Washington's diary: 1762 farm diary written by Washington on the blank pages of a Farmer's Almanac and one of only five such diaries, which is not already in the Library's collections. Details from the everyday life of the future general and president.
  • The first drawings of any Maya ruins, the 1787 images of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, by Ricardo Almendariz, prepared for King Carlos III of Spain.
  • The earliest photographs (1855-1858) of Mexican ruins, by DesirP Charnay. These are historically important and beautiful images taken at the dawn of photography.
  • A drawing of the ruins of Kabah, Yucatan, by Frederick Catherwood, the British-American architect and engineer whose drawings first brought the ruins of the ancient Maya of Central America and Mexico to the attention of the world.
  • Francisco Pareja's "Catecismo en la lengua Timuquana y Castellano" (1627), the earliest printed record of a U.S. Native American language and the basis of historians' knowledge of the now-extinct Timucuan tribe of central Florida.
  • First edition, "De Americaensche Zee-Roovers," by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin; the classic account of pirates Henry Morgan, Francois Lolonois, Pierre le Grande and Bartholomew Portugues.
  • The Tortuguero Box, a seventh century Maya wood artifact, among the few complete personal Maya objects made from wood that survived the centuries. It is intricately carved with images and inscriptions, both beautiful and historically significant.
  • Letters of John Quincy Adams to Francisco Vives in 1820 related to the Adams-OnĂ­s Treaty (Florida acquisition by the United States).
  • A group of documents and letters by and about the founding fathers, offering insight into their lives and personalities.

Digital photographs of selected items from the Kislak Collection are available to the media for publicity purposes through the Public Affairs Office of the Library of Congress, (202) 707-1940.


PR 04-063
ISSN 0731-3527