Biography and History

Robert Garrett was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 24, 1875. Garrett inherited his collecting interest from his father, Thomas Harrison Garrett, Princeton Class of 1868. After his father's sudden death in 1888, Garrett spent the following two and a half years traveling extensively with his mother and two brothers, Horatio and John, in Europe and the Near East. During his travels Garrett developed a particular interest in manuscripts and began collecting. He used the text Universal Paleography: or, Fac-similes of Writing of All Nations and Periods by J. B. Silvestre (tr. by Sir Frederic Madden, London, 1949-50) as his guide for collecting primary examples of every known type of script.

Garrett returned to the United States in 1891 and soon after began his studies at Princeton University. He received his A.B. degree from Princeton in 1897. While in school, Garrett excelled in track and field athletics. In 1896 he competed in the first modern Olympic games in Athens, Greece, where he became the first champion in discus and shot put.

After graduation he continued on in the family banking firm, Robert Garrett & Sons, in Baltimore, Maryland. However, he maintained very close contact with his alma mater and in 1905 was elected a Life Trustee of Princeton University. Throughout his career Garrett also remained dedicated to his collecting hobby. He maintained from the beginning that his collection would one day be given to the Princeton University Library so that it would always be connected with academic research. He donated the bulk of his collection to the Princeton University Library in 1942. Robert Garrett died on April 25, 1961, in Baltimore, Maryland. In the end he had amassed a collection of over 11,000 volumes of Western and non-Western manuscripts, fragments, and scrolls, originating from Europe, the Near East, Africa, Asia and Mesoamerica, ca. 1340 B.C.-1900s.

Source: From the finding aid for C0627

Biography and History

William E. (Edmond) Gates (1863-1940), a printer by trade and a Maya linguist, archaeologist, and collector by avocation. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia on Dec. 8, 1863 and obtained an A.B. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1886, where among other subjects he studied languages of the Near East and Asia. As a self-created Mayanist, Gates became a scholar-collector who dedicated the remainder of his life to the acquisition, study, and publication of manuscripts relating to the cultural region of Mesoamerica (Middle America), an area extending roughly from modern-day central Mexico to El Salvador and Guatemala. Gates collected thousands of Maya and Mexicana manuscripts from around the world, from which he printed hundreds of translations, facsimiles, and transcriptions.

Gates developed a particular interest in the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphs, which covered ruins throughout Guatemala and Yucatan, and the two Maya languages Ki'che' and Yucatec. The ancient Maya civilization, developed in the 2nd millennium BC, was the only Pre-Columbian civilization in the western hemisphere to create a unique writing system, thus providing the Maya with the means to create a written history. Gates dedicated some thirty years of his life toward the understanding of this system and, because of his printing interests, the design and development of a font for Maya hieroglyphic type. Between the years 1914 and 1930, Gates collected as many manuscripts, vocabularies, texts, doctrines, and other artifacts from the earliest years of Spanish occupation as possible. Throughout the years he would spend thousands of dollars in the pursuit of manuscripts, believing it was within these original manuscript sources that he would find the answers to his linguistic questions concerning the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphs.

In 1920, Gates established the Maya Society in Auburn Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia, which had the sole purpose of the collection and dissemination of information on Maya languages and culture. Under the auspices of the Society, he published over twenty volumes of transcriptions and translations, including dictionaries, calendars, medico-botanical texts, and historical texts concerning the Spanish conquest. In 1930, as a means to recover from his ongoing financial difficulty, Gates reluctantly sold a portion of his manuscript "collextion" to Robert Garrett (1875-1961), a fellow resident of Baltimore, Princeton Class of 1897, Olympic athlete, investment banker, Princeton Charter Trustee, and collector. William Gates died on Apr. 24, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland, leaving incomplete his research on the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphs. In his lifetime he collected thousands of manuscripts and printed materials in the indigenous languages of Middle America, which would eventually be dispersed among several libraries throughout the United States.

For further information about the formation of the Garrett-Gates Mesoamerican Manuscripts Collection (C0744.01), see Teresa T. Basler and David C. Wright, "The Making of a Collection: Mesoamerican Manuscripts at Princeton University," Libraries & the Cultural Record, vol. 43, no. 1 (2008), pp. 29-55.

Source: From the finding aid for C0744.01

Biography and History

Robert Garrett (1875-1961) was an American banker and philanthropist. Garrett (Princeton Class of 1897) was also an Olympic athlete, Princeton Charter Trustee, and a collector.

Source: From the finding aid for C0744.02

Biography and History

Robert Garrett (1875-1961) of Baltimore, Maryland, a member of the Princeton Class of 1897, was an American banker and philanthropist. Garrett was also an Olympic athlete (the first modern Olympic champion in shot put and discus throw), a Princeton Charter Trustee, and a collector of manuscripts.

Source: From the finding aid for C0744.03