Documents of the revolution

Sid Lapidus ’59 has donated to Princeton 157 rare books, pamphlets, and prints that are displayed in a new exhibition in the main gallery of Firestone Library. The exhibition, entitled “Liberty & the American Revolution: Selections from the Collection of Sid Lapidus ’59,” opened May 28 — just in time for the 50th reunion of Lapidus’ class.

The items span more than 150 years of American and British history, from the 17th century to the early 19th century, and are arranged thematically into four groups. “Revolutionary Origins” features documents relating to political theory and ideology, beginning with a 1651 edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. “The American Crisis” displays a wide array of views on the 18th century controversy over taxation and the push for independence in the colonies.

Documents in the final two segments, “Contagious Liberty” and “Abolition of the Slave Trade,” not only chronicle the political, religious, and economic issues of a newly independent nation, but also call for the rights of women and slaves in America and Britain. Among the voices in the collection are John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Phillis Wheatley, and Mary Wollstonecraft.

The books “define what it means to be a citizen of a republic,” said Stephen Ferguson, curator of rare books at Firestone.

Lapidus began his lifelong passion for book collecting the summer after he graduated from Princeton, when he chanced upon an item that would mark the first of many acquisitions to come: a rare 1792 edition of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Passing by a bookseller’s window in London, he happened to notice the small book on display. Lapidus explained this first purchase when he introduced a smaller exhibition of his pamphlets at Princeton in 1991: “The price? About the equivalent of $5. How could I not buy it? My book collecting career had started.”

Since then his collection has grown to include more than 2,500 items, the majority of which he said he intends to donate to Princeton. In a foreword to the exhibition catalogue, Lapidus wrote: “To me, collecting has been a voyage of discovery of part of me that I didn’t know existed … a voyage that I hope will continue for many more years to come.”

Lapidus, a retired partner of the private-equity investment firm Warburg Pincus, has endowed a research fund that will provide grants to scholars who want to use the items in the collection. His past gifts to the University include the endowment of a chair in the history department on the American Revolutionary Era. He also sponsored the creation of the Lapidus Family Fund for American Jewish Studies, which is administered jointly by the programs in Judaic studies and American studies.

The exhibition will run through Jan. 3. Summer gallery hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 8:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Wednesday, 8:45 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. There are no Wednesday evening hours in August and the first two weeks of September. For more information, call (609) 258-3184 or visit http://www.princeton.edu/~rbsc/exhibitions/lar/, a Web site that includes much of the 200-page exhibition catalogue. By Emily M. Silk ’10

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>