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After the commission was thus enlightened as to their duties and opportunities, it was confronted with the question as to whether or not it should proceed to confine itself to the appropriation available or whether it should come back to Congress with its problem and suggest an additional appropriation in order that a really great memorial might be erected suitable to the situation in keeping with the achievement and worthy of a great Government which had too long neglected to show appreciation for this, one of the greatest and most inspiring achievements in all history.
The commission was unanimous in its decision that it should come back to Congress with its problem, rather than proceed to erect that which failed to satisfy itself and failed to conform to the expressed intention of Congress.
The committee held hearings and unanimously decided that this additional appropriation should be granted, that it was necessary in order to really accomplish what Congress intended and in order that the best results might be had, and in order that the money already appropriated should not be unwisely spent.
That this experience is not new and that the reasons herein are sound, are proven by a similar experience in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, where the initial appropriation was limited to $2,000,000, but it was found necessary, for the memorial to meet its expectations, to spend considerably more than $3,000,000.
The conclusions reached by the committee unanimously were not based upon the statements of the interested architects alone, but were based upon the testimony of disinterested architects and are supported by the almost unanimous conclusions of the many outstanding architects who participated in the competition, as shown by their designs submitted
Realizing its own responsibility and its great opportunity, the State of Indiana, the county of Knox, the city of Vincennes, and the citizens there have not failed to contribute generously in the effort to make this a really notable accomplishment. Local contributions have been made as follows: Citizens of Vincennes, donations ..
$50, 000 Vincennes bond issue (special statute).
100, 000 Knox County bond issue..
100, 000 State of Indiana, by special tax levy enacted by State legislature - 406, 000 Knox County, a special historical boulevard along Wabash River.
connecting the Clark Memorial grounds with Harrison Park, wherein stands the Harrison home and first colonial courthouse
(built by bonds), especially wide, with river wall and lights... 234, 000 Indiana-Illinois bridge built to conform with memorial and changed
from steel to solid masonry which doubled cost (free) one-half to each State (extra cost)
375, 000 The requirements for additional land advised by architects will cost the State of Indiana
65, 000 Certain other miscellaneous items (estimated).
50, 000 Total...
1, 380, 000 Section 4 of the original bill is amended by this bill to permit expenditures to be paid when approved by the commission instead of being approved by the majority of the members of the commission. This is done to expedite and facilitate the work of the commission. There has not been nor is there expected to be any dissentions in the commission. So far, the commission has been unanimous upon every important question, but the commission, consisting of 15 members so widely separated, should be permitted to act when it has a quorum present without being required to ascertain the opinion of those not present. This point was raised by the General Accounting Office and causes the commission unnecessary trouble in making out its vouchers for expenditures.
The third thing accomplished by the bill would be to prolong the life of the commission, because it is now obvious that it will be impossible to complete the work within the time originally provided.
Mr. Fess, from the Committee on the Library, submitted the
[To accompany H. R. 12696)
The Committee on the Library, which has had under consideration the bill (H. R. 12696) providing for the purchase of the Vollbehr collection of incunabula, having considered the same, do recommend that the bill pass. The facts are set forth in the hearing on a similar Senate bill (S. 4629) which is appended hereto and made a part of this report.
HEARING BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON THE LIBRARY, UNITED STATES SENATE,
WITH REGARD TO THE PURCHASE OF THE VOLLBEHR COLLECTION OF INCUNABULA, JUNE 16, 1930 Present: Senator Simeon D. Fess (chairman), Senators Frederick H. Gillett, Hiram Bingham, Kenneth McKellar, Alben W. Barkley, and Elmer Thomas, members of the committee; Mr. Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress.
STATEMENT OF HERBERT PUTNAM, LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS The committee was called to order by the chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. There are several bills which I want to take up this morning and one is H. R. 12696, authorizing an appropriation for the purchase of the Vollbehr collection of incunabula, which is identical with the Senate bill S. 4629, introduced by Senator Bingham. There was some difference in the bills
Mr. PUTNAM. It was the first House bill that had some different features. The bill reported out from the House committee is the same as the second one introduced in the Senate by Senator Bingham.
The CHAIRMAN. I would like to state for the record that I have not given approval of this proposal-rather, had expressed disapproval-on the grounds that it was an expenditure of public money that might be used or employed for better purposes, and that this collection could be, or might be, secured by some public-spirited men if we only knew who they are-many of them are in the country—who would be glad to purchase a collection of this sort and present it to the Library. I thought I was expressing the attitude of those who were most intimately associated with the Library when I took this position, but I find the interest has been so widespread that I could not resist giving a hearing on the bill at the suggestion of Senator Bingham. And for that reason I asked the Librarian to come over and state to us what he thinks should be done with reference to the matter. The Librarian is here, and we will be glad to hear what he has to say.
Mr. PUTNAM. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I am now absolutely for this bill; indeed, urgently for it.
The Chairman. May I ask, Doctor, does that mean that there has been some change of attitude in the matter?
Mr. Putnam. Yes; from the dubious to the strongly affirmative. But the dubious was based, not on the merits of the bill, but on the expediencies. In the present situation, I believe the failure of the bill would be a calamity; and an impression that it had failed because of indifference on the part of the Librarian and the Library Committee would do us a very serious injury. My original attitude was embodied in a letter which I wrote to Representative Moore of Virginia, on March 10—the eve of the hearing before the House committee. He had written me, urging me to withdraw what he understood to be my "opposition” to the bill. I wrote him:
“I could not myself be responsible for such a proposal, or by any advocacy of it imperil pending measures which I deem fundamental to the welfare of the Library in its present stage. But the committee will have no reason to think that I differ from the librarians who will testify as to the significance of the collection, if including the Gutenberg, the additional power and prestige its possession would bring to the Library, and the probability that the acquisition of it by Congress upon its own initiative would extraordinarily impress the world of culture, and would inspire many gifts of a value ultimately in excess of the sum expended.'
But I added that so large an expenditure of public money for such a purpose involved a question of legislative policy on which I could not then risk a recommendation.
The hearing did not disclose anything new to me as to the merits of the collection. What was to me significant in it was the enthusiasm of the witnesses and the various angles of interest that they represented.
During my 31 years here I think I have gained a certain repute for moderation. I could not risk impairing it by indorsement of a proposal which from its apparent exorbitance might cause a very unfavorable reaction in Congress. But apprehensions of this sort were quenched by the action of the House last Monday. Very remarkable it was, Mr. Chairman. The bill was called up by the majority leader, and passed under suspension of the rules, without a single substantial objection. The chairman of the Library Committee, Mr. Luce, did demand a second, but it was only for the purpose of cautioning the House that if the proposal went through, others involving cultural projects were certain to follow which would prove expensive; and at the end of the debate he indicated that on the whole he was glad that the House seemed disposed to act.
In the meantime the measures that I thought such a proposal would imperil had been taken care of; and in the meantime also, there has developed throughout the country an enthusiasm for this project which amounts to an exhilarationthat the Government of the United States may match the other governments of the world in the recognition of cultural objects. You have had evidence of that in the letters and editorials with which you have been deluged.
It is not merely the literati, the scholars—it is also the man on the street, who has been touched and stirred. And among the groups so stirred is one group of exceeding importance to us; that is, the group representing connoisseurship.
Now we are constantly receiving expressions of respect and admiration for the development of the Library, but there is one kind of admiration and respect and interest that we have thus far lacked—that is the interest of the connoisseur who values books as books. Last fall one of my associates wrote to such a map asking him if he would lend one or two of his rare editions for exhibit in the Library. He wrote back: “Why should I lend them to the Library of Congress? What does Congress care about such books as I care for?” (What he actually wrote was “What does the Senate care?”] Now that man, stirred by this bili, came down for the hearings. He told the committee, and told me afterwards, that if Congress would do this thing it would mean that collectors such as he would think of our Library instead of some other as the place where, as gifts, their collections would find real appreciation.
The CHAIRMAN. May I now ask, Doctor Putnam, if we purchase this collection because it is rare, what will be the effect upon the people who have what they think is rare, in asking the Government to take it over?
Mr. PUTNAM. I think there will be other proposals submitted, but I do not believe that they need inconvenience you. Of course the procedure should be different. The one pursued in this bill wouldn't in general be a healthy one. The bill was introduced with out consulting me, but I could not be consulted because it proposed a compliment to me. The normal method by which such a proposal should come to you is on recommendation of those of us across the way who are your responsible advisers in such matters. But that is a detail now corrected as far as this measure is concerned. I do not think the prospect of other proposals which may prove inconvenient should induce you to reject this unique opportunity, which will never recur.
As to the value of the collection: I could not support the figures given to the House committee that these 3,000 books are worth over $3,000,000; but with the Gutenberg Bible they're certainly worth a million and a half. Except for the Gutenberg, they lack, to be sure, many of the items of greatest bibliographic distinction produced during the period. They include few examples of the English press. Even so, they constitute a collection which can never be reproduced, illustrative of the latter half of the fifteenth century. Now that halfcentury, Mr. Chairman, led the way to modern civilization opened the way to America and began the ferment that became the Renaissance and the Reformation. These books set down the manners, customs, interests, thoughts, and aspirations of the peoples of that period. Few of them are available in other forms. They are indispensable to the student of history, of art, and of printing—the art which more than any other has influenced modern civilization.
Don't think of them as merely curios. They are in one sense museum pieces. But that is not their only value. They contain substantial material for the study of that period.
As to the Gutenberg Bible, that stands by itself. We have a facsimile of it. (We have also a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, exhibited in a case 20 feet from the original. It is much more legible than the original; but it isn't the facsimile that our visitors pay any attention to.) Consider this Gutenberg. It is the Bible; as literature to us, the supreme book. As the Gutenberg, it is the surpassing'edition—in itself a surpassing achievement in printing, and the first book of consequence printed in Europe. And this copy, one of three on vellum surviving, is the surpassing copy. Mr. Chairman, the British Government once paid $300,000 for a work of Raphael; individual Americans have paid nearly a million dollars for a single painting by a relatively modern artist. But there is not a painting—not the Sistine Madonna nor the Transfiguration nor the Night Watch-that has the absolute primacy in the world of art that this book, and this copy of it, has in the world of books. Its primacy is absolute, and will always remain so. Its commercial value can't be definitely set. Some estimate it at $600,000; others as high as a million. What is fact is that Doctor Vollbehr is under contract to pay $305,000 for it. But a precise valuation of it does not enter into the figure of $1,500,000 for the collection as a whole. That figure was set by Doctor Vollbehr before he intended to include the Gutenberg. With the Gutenberg included the collection at $1,500,000 is certainly an excellent investment; and that is discounting much the estimates of men competent to judge. Our partial check has satisfied us of this.
Mr. BARKLEY. I have not read the House hearings, and do not have a very comprehensive idea of what the 3,000 volumes consist of.
Mr. PUTNAM. There are 3,000 different books printed during the years 1450 to 1500, partly in Latin, partly the current dialects of Europe: French, German, Italian, Spanish, and so forth. Some of them are editions of the classics, some of them theological treatises, many others are on miscellaneous subjects covering the whole realm of culture. Besides these, there is the Gutenberg Bible, which is one of the three existing copies on vellum, of which one is in the British Museum and the other is in Paris. This is the finest of the three copies.
Mr. MCKELLAR. In your judgment, do you think the collection is worth one and a half milllion dollars?
Mr. PUTNAM. Yes, sir.