Penn Libraries adds early American Judaica collection

Judaica Collection

Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica

This hand-colored lithograph was printed in Philadelphia in 1856. The building on the right with three chimneys is the Old City Hall of Philadelphia, where the U.S. Supreme Court met from 1791-1800.

Penn Libraries is now home to a large private collection documenting the social and economic development of early Jewish life in the Western Hemisphere. 

The more than 11,000 items in the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica are mostly manuscripts and printed materials, but also include some museum-quality early American oil paintings, presentation silver, and Jewish ritual objects. The historic items cover the period before mass Jewish migration to the Americas in the late 1800s. 

“Generations of scholars will be grateful to the Kaplans for their diligence in amassing this collection and for their generosity in presenting it to Penn,” says Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of Penn Libraries.

The earliest item in the collection is a late-16th century codex of the proceedings of the Mexican Inquisition against a New Christian accused of “Judaizing.”

The collection also includes engraved maps dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, which document Jewish settlement in the New World.

A major component of the collection focuses on the development of Jewish mercantile, social, and religious activity in the Americas during the 19th century.

“Its unique and wide-ranging materials bring to life the details and vitality of an evolving Jewish community,” says Beth S. Wenger, chair of the Department of History and director of the Jewish Studies Program. “The depth and breadth of this collection are truly extraordinary and will be an unparalleled source for researchers.”

Penn Libraries and the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) have created a partnership to enhance public access to the collection by making the materials available to the NMAJH on long-term loan.

The Kaplan Collection will be housed at Penn’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, located at 420 Walnut St. However, through a partnership between the two institutions, the items will be available for exhibit at the NMAJH, which is located at 5th and Market streets, only four blocks away.

The close proximity of the institutions will allow researchers and teachers to easily access the materials, and provide opportunities for future exhibitions between Penn and the NMAJH. 

Originally published on December 20, 2012