Generally, when I miss a day of work at the Smithsonian American Art/National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG), I ask upon my return if anything exciting happened while I was gone. Of course, though things are always happening, the library doesn’t have many explosions or high-speed car chases. However, every now and then, something happens, something more exciting even than an afternoon coffee break. One such event happened just a few weeks ago.
I was not aware of what was going on at the time, but I found out soon enough. An order had come in for a two-volume set to be sent out through Inter-Library Loan. When the requested books were retrieved from the stacks, however, it quickly became apparent that they would not benefit from being shipped to an outside party. The large volumes were rather grandiose and impressive-looking. On a hunch, our head librarian, Doug Litts, researched the books online. He was shocked to discover that the two ponderous works are worth a large sum of money (a sum involving five figures). I asked Doug about what he thought upon finding the books’ worth. He said, “My initial reaction was: how many other things do we have in the collection that are worth that much? My answer is probably a lot,” he added with a grin.
The books are called A Description of the Works of Art Forming the Collection of Alfred de Rothschild and were published in 1884. Pictured below is the Alfred de Rothschild symbol found on the front cover of each book and the crest of Lord Battersea, found inside the volumes. The AA/PG Library staff is proud to have such treasures in our collection. Even so, it clearly remains to be seen how many other treasures are hiding in the stacks quietly waiting to be discovered.