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Before he became the first name of a bank, J. P. Morgan was a Wall Street mogul who, a century ago, bequeathed his collection of 14,000 or so rare books to what his son would transform into the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue. Since then, the collection has grown to about 80,000 printed books, supervised since 1999 by John Bidwell, 63, the Astor Curator of Printed Books and Bindings. He majored in history at Columbia University, and received his master’s at Columbia’s School of Library Service and his doctorate in English from Oxford. Dr. Bidwell commutes from Princeton, N.J., where he lives with his wife, Andrea Immel, a curator at Princeton University Library.
What makes a book rare: There are plenty of books that are valuable and not rare, and plenty of books that are rare and not valuable. Example: The Morgan is celebrated for being the one institution in the world for having three Gutenberg Bibles. You might say it’s not extremely rare because there are 50 known copies in various states of completeness in the world. On the other hand, we have plenty of early books that are the only known copy in the world, some of them deservedly so.
Library rat: I’ve had no other job but to work in libraries since I was a college undergraduate. As soon as I realized it was time for me to go back to graduate school, I knew I wanted to work in rare book libraries, and that’s all I’ve done.
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