by Erinn Batykefer
The George Sherman Dickinson Music Library at Vassar College is a special place, and not just because it supports a well-respected Music Department. The top floor also houses the United States’ first example of a museum within a library; named “The Treasure Room,” the museum collects and preserves the Music Department’s Historical Musical Instrument Collection and the Music Library’s Special Collections.
“A healthy music education is not seriously possible without a healthy library.” ~George Sherman Dickinson
Dickinson a beloved Professor, a Chair of the Music Department, and the Music Librarian during his career at Vassar, believed that collecting musical instruments in the same way one might collect scores was crucial to creating an ideal liberal arts music library. In an address titled “The Living Library,” Dickinson stated that “The only significant conception of the music library is. . . one which acknowledges it as a fundamental, comprehensive center of materials of all sorts for the teaching and learning of music”
Including learning to play music written for instruments that are rare or no longer manufactured–like the Treasure Room’s restored harpsichord, which was built in 1610 and is the oldest playable instrument of its kind in the country. With this ideal library in mind, Vassar has collected an astonishing array of historical musical instruments, most of which were donated to the College in one of two primary gifts: The first was made in the 1930s by the family of collector Reverend James Henry Darlington. The second, a collection of 90 stringed instruments from ancient Egypt to the present day was built by Dr. Henry James and was presented to the College in 1993.
For more information on the instruments pictured below, visit the Treasure Room page, which includes profiles of select instruments contributed by Laurence Libin, Frederick P. Rose Curator of Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art.