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Archives and Special Collections: Jonas Clark Rare Book Collection

An introduction to the materials available in Clark University's Archives and Special Collections.

Who was Jonas Clark?

Portrait of Jonas Clark. He is wearing a suit and tie, and the photo is black and white.

  • Founder of Clark University
  • Born in Hubbardston, MA in 1815
  • Married Susan Wright (1816-1904) in 1836
  • Became the largest furniture wholesaler west of the Rocky Mountains
  • Invested in real estate, bonds, and securities
  • Moved back to New York in 1868, began collecting rare books and art
  • Became interested in higher education, toured European universities and spoke to college graduates
  • In 1881-1885, purchased lots in South End of Worcester, MA
  • In 1887 petitioned for incorporation of an institution of higher education. The legislation was passed on March 31, 1887.
  • Hosted first Board of Trustees meeting on May 4, 1887
  • Pledged a one million dollar endowment and all the property in Main South Worcester and the eventual donation of his rare books and art
  • Died in 1900, leaving a will with specific conditions that would allow Clark University to receive the funds.  If they did not meet the terms, the money would go to relatives.

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The Books

A lover of libraries, Jonas Clark donated many books and works of art to the library at Clark University besides his $675,000 endowment.

The items in the Jonas Clark Book Collection do not circulate, but may be examined upon request. The collection contains a dozen codices, a couple of which are Books of Hours. There are more than forty incunabula, including two editions of the Nuremberg Chronicle, books printed by Jenson, and works by Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Livy, Pliny, and Plutarch. Furthermore, there is an incunabula about St. Augustine that is the only copy known to exist in the U.S. The Clark Collection also houses several hundred books printed from the 16th through the 18th centuries, including a first edition of Diderot's famous "Encyclopedie" and books printed by Aldus. The collection also has over three dozen Bibles in many old and foreign languages.

In addition to these rare tomes, Clark donated over 2500 beautifully bound "Victorian parlor books." This part of the collection contains a great deal of nineteenth century English literature, demonstrates Victorian taste for books, and is a remarkable record of what a gentleman's library was like at the end of the nineteenth century. The parlor books are decorated in many different ways. Most are bound in some type of leather, including pigskin, morocco, crushed morocco, Spanish calf, and tree calf. The collection is fortunate to have fifteen books with fore-edge paintings.