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Eric Bartheld
Indiana University Bloomington Libraries

Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2010

IU's Lilly Library to celebrate 50th anniversary with collection of rare treasures

Among items on display will be George Washington's letter accepting the presidency and a first edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Jan. 11, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An exhibition of rare books and manuscripts to mark the 50th anniversary of Indiana University's Lilly Library will include treasures never before displayed together. An open house to view the exhibition and the library's newly renovated reading room is scheduled for Jan. 22 from 5 -9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The exhibition runs through May 8.

Lilly Library

Lilly Library

"Treasures of the Lilly Library" will feature such rare items as William Shakespeare's First Folio, George Washington's letter accepting the presidency, Albrecht Dürer's Apocalypse, and the first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, printed in the 1470s.

"To celebrate our 50th year, we've assembled the best of the best," said Breon Mitchell, director of the Lilly Library. "The items on display are not only rare and intriguing, they are also cultural touchstones -- pivotal works of literature, history and our shared culture."

Consistently ranked among the nation's top libraries for rare books, the Lilly Library contains more than 400,000 books, 7.5 million manuscripts and 150,000 pieces of sheet music.

In 1954, Josiah Kirby Lilly, Jr., began donating his private collection of books and manuscripts to Indiana University. IU President Herman B Wells then proposed constructing a separate building to house all the university's rare books and manuscripts. The Lilly Library, named for the Lilly family, was dedicated Oct. 3, 1960.

Shakespeare book

"Treasures of the Lilly Library" will be followed by a summer exhibition of materials considered to be more unusual or unexpected, such as a copy of Hamlet printed on cork, Rita Hayworth's makeup case, medicine show signs painted by James Whitcomb Riley and pencils made by Henry David Thoreau's family pencil company.

The year will end with an exhibition of 100 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts curated by noted scholar Christopher De Hamel, the Gaylord Donnelley Fellow Librarian at Corpus Christi College of Cambridge University, Cambridge, England. De Hamel has authored many books, including A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, and was formerly responsible for sales of illuminated medieval manuscripts for Sotheby's.

The Lilly Library, located on Seventh Street on IU's Bloomington campus, is part of the IU Libraries. Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Lilly Library, see