Feb 10, 2023

Digital Access to a Collection of Rare Revolution-Era Books and Publications

Sidney Lapidus ’59 has donated a collection of rare Revolution-era books and publications to Princeton University as part of the Venture Forward campaign, enabling Princeton University Library (PUL) to greatly enrich the Sid Lapidus ’59 Collection on Liberty and the American Revolution. The collection includes more than 2,700 original books, atlases, pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines relating to human and political rights, liberty, and independence around the time of the American Revolution. Lapidus also made a financial gift that enabled the PUL team to digitize the collection, making it keyword-searchable and openly available to the world.

“We are deeply grateful to Sid Lapidus for enabling scholars and students to access a deeper perspective on the ideas that animated the Enlightenment and the American Revolution through the digitization of his vast personal collection of books,” said President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83. “His loyal support of Firestone Library and his love of literature, history and the artistry of books will benefit generations of Princetonians.”

Lapidus has collected rare books and other publications for more than 60 years. His first purchase inspired what became the theme of his collection. The summer after he graduated from Princeton, he visited London. “Peering through a dusty bookstore window in central London, I saw a 1792 edition of Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man,’” Lapidus said. “It was less than $5 — about the most I could afford at the time. I bought it and that basically got me started collecting.”

Paine was already a semi-prominent figure in Lapidus’ life. The Thomas Paine Cottage, where the “Common Sense” writer lived near the end of his life, is located across the street from Lapidus’ high school in New Rochelle, New York. “I had some excellent teachers at New Rochelle High School and when they taught us Paine, I thought, ‘This guy speaks to me,’” Lapidus said. “I felt like he was my neighbor, so seeing that book in London brought me back home in a way. Of all the pieces in my collection, that was always the one that meant the most to me.”

Lapidus’ personal collection also includes rare books and pamphlets related to the abolitionist movement as well as the expansion of religious liberty and civil rights, particularly for the Jewish community on both sides of the Atlantic, and he has donated portions of his collection to other institutions. He provided pieces from his collection to help establish the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Trans-Atlantic Slavery at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Lapidus and his wife, Ruth, have also made numerous gifts to NYU Langone Health, including volumes from his private collection that now reside in the Sid and Ruth Lapidus Health Sciences Library at NYU Langone.

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