Associates of the Boston Public Library

David McCullough Conservation Fund


The Associates of the Boston Public Library is proud to manage the David McCullough Conservation Fund, established in 2001 to provide a consistent source of funding for the restoration and preservation of books, manuscripts, works of art and historic documents in the Library's Rare Books and Special Collections. The Fund is named after historian David McCullough, who during his tenure as a Boston Public Library Trustee (1995-2000), became convinced of the growing need to conserve the Library's many irreplaceable treasures. Not so incidentally, Mr. McCullough made extensive use of the Library's Special Collections while writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography John Adams published in 2001 and subsequently 1776, published in 2005. The John Adams Library of over 3500 volumes is housed at the BPL and was showcased at a recent exhibition.

In honor of David McCullough and to raise funds for the McCullough Fund, the Associates has sponsored two "Dinner Parties with David McCullough." At the dinners in the Edwin Austin Abbey Room, David McCullough spoke passionately on the need to fight the ravages of time by restoring the nation's treasures. To date, the 2006 and 2010 dinners and related contributions have raised over $3,000,000, the largest initiative ever undertaken by the Associates.

Buoyed by this success, the Associates is dedicated more than ever to create events and opportunities and to launch projects to raise awareness and fascination in its mission - to achieve a substantial endowment and restoration goal.

Now standing at over $3,000,000, the David McCullough Conservation Fund is invested for growth and has also contributed to the conservation and restoration of several important projects. The complete repair and restoration of John Adams's Personal Atlas has been completed. Published in Paris in 1778, the Atlas measures 22" by 17" and contains 78 maps of North America, 21 of which are enhanced with watercolor, and nine of which fold out to become from two to five times bigger. The English Pilot, Book Four, a companion piece, was printed in London in 1775 for J. Mount, T. Page, and W. Mount on Tower Hill. Also part of the John Adams collection, this oversized volume describes navigation from Hudson's Bay to the River Amazones and has also been completely restored.

Additionally, the Associates restored an extraordinary medieval illuminated scroll measuring 30 feet long by 20 inches wide, entitled “La Chronique Universalle,” ca. 1440. The scroll, one of the BPL’s finest treasures and probably the finest example in the world, is made from 16 skins of parchment, and depicts sacred and secular events from the beginning of the world to 1440. It was featured at an Associates members’ reception and at the Secular/ Sacred exhibition in conjunction with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College.

The Associates is also pleased to have sponsored the restoration of the Gutenberg Catholicon (Gutenberg's Big Dictionary), published in 1460 (of the eleven copies of this work known to exist in the U.S., the BPL's copy is the only one printed on vellum); Boethius's Arithmetica; a scrapbook of "The Star Spangled Banner" by J. Hewitt, published in New York in 1818; the wooden plaque that adorned the Adams Library in Quincy; and purchased a letter from Samuel Cooper to George Washington sent during the American Revolution. The Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), also written on vellum, Gerard's Herball and an early medieval illuminated manuscript of the life of St. Jerome have also been restored.

Technically speaking, many books, engravings and lithographs printed on acidic paper, for example, are now turning brown and becoming extremely brittle. These artifacts will literally crumble to dust if they are not treated by conservators. Similarly, maps and manuscripts subjected to environmental pollutants, radical changes in temperature and improper storage over many years are now often too fragile to be opened, let alone used. This problem blatantly defies the BPL’s mission of Free to All.

If the McCullough Fund is to meet the growing needs of the Library, it must evolve into an endowment which can generate annual income of at least $150,000 per year. Substantial donations will be required to achieve this objective. Despite the softening of the economy, the Associates believes that this goal is attainable if all those who believe in the Library and its importance in our democratic society support and become dedicated to this important initiative.

Those wishing to do so can send checks payable to The David McCullough Conservation Fund to the Associates of the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston 02116. Contributions at all levels are welcome. All are fully tax deductible. You may also contribute online:

Associates of the Boston Public Library
700 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Phone: 617-536-3886


A sampling of David McCullough Conservation Fund accomplishments:

  • restoration of John Adams's personal atlas
  • restoration of "The English Pilot"
  • Conservation of a medieval illuminated manuscript, "St. Jerome in Laudibus"
  • "Liber Chronicarium," the Chronicles of Nuremberg from the 1400s
  • restoration of the Gutenberg "Catholicon"
  • repair of 35-foot by 24-inch medieval illuminated scroll, ca. 1440
  • purchase of a Revolutionary letter to George Washington from Samuel Cooper
  • repair of John Adams Library plaque
  • restoration of “Boethius's Arithmetica”
  • purchase of the Macmonnies "Bacchante" maquette
  • purchase of modern display cases for the BPL McKim Exhibition Hall

In the Music Department, the following materials, among others, have been conserved:

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Dreistimmige Fuge. Autograph manuscript
  • Franz Schubert. Der Geistertanz. Autograph manuscript
  • Dmitri Shostakovich. Lady of Mtensk. Sketch. Autograph manuscript.
  • 7 volumes of American music autograph manuscripts, including: Dudley Buck, George Chadwick, George Whiting, etc.
  • Sebastian Virdung. Musica Getutscht. Basel , 1511. One of 17 extant copies of the first book on musical instruments in the vernacular. This volume is a unicum. The only copy which is a contemporary watercolor.
  • Jacques Offenbach. Voyage de la Lune. Vocal score containing the script and original costume designs. Also contains correspondence concerning the first performance of the opera.
  • George Chadwick. Third String Quartet. Autograph manuscript.