Remembering Collector Jay Kislak

We were saddened to learn last week of the death of Jay Kislak, an extraordinary collector and a generous philanthropist to several libraries, including the Library of Congress and the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania. He also provided the financial backing for the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Kislak was 96.

"Although Jay Kislak often stayed out of the spotlight, his generosity could not keep him there. Whether making a $150 million contribution to the Library of Congress or supporting a fledging book collecting contest for young people, he did much to keep books in the public eye," said Webb Howell, publisher of Fine Books. "He embodied both scholarship and leadership in the world of books."

Kislak's gift to the Library of Congress was the subject of a 2008 cover story in Fine Books. The collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts focuses on the Americas and includes 4,000 items spanning three millennia; it was largely built between the 1960s and the 1990s. At the time, he told us, "I'm just interested in studying an area of history that happens to have been neglected, and the books are the things to tell the story."

Well into his nineties, the New Jersey-born real estate mogul was active in collecting and in contributing to collections. Just last year, his foundation made a donation to the University of Miami and Miami Dade College that included 2,300 rare books, maps, manuscripts, pre-Columbian artifacts, and related material, with its particular focus on Florida, the Caribbean, exploration, navigation, and the early Americas. Each school received a first edition of the famous 1493 letter of Christopher Columbus, in which he describes the New World, as well as a selection of rare and important items. As a whole, the collection was valued at $30 million.

"Like the treasures he collected, Jay was one of a kind. The Kislak Center at the University of Miami Libraries is his legacy and a lasting tribute to his love for our community," University of Miami President Julio Frenk told the Miami Herald.