A former Rhode Island Supreme Court chief justice and his wife decided long ago that their massive Abraham Lincoln and Civil War collection — including thousands of artifacts, photographs, statues, miniatures, books and pamphlets — should go somewhere not already rich in Lincolniana.
Williams served as president of the Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Association for nine years and was in the Illinois capital city for the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. And he said his home state of Rhode Island has “magnificent” Lincoln collections at Brown University.
But, he said, “Years ago, Virginia and I decided that we would give this collection to a school that has none,” Williams said
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Williams, the longtime president of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, was previously instrumental in relocating that group and its own archives—now the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library—to MSU nine years ago. By donating his extraordinary Lincoln collection, Williams has also helped elevate MSU into a presidential research center of national prominence.
Considered the nation’s largest privately owned holding of Lincoln research and display material, as well as the country’s most comprehensive privately owned Lincoln and Civil War library, the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Collection boasts rare historical memorabilia; priceless artifacts; original, signed documents; ephemera; books published over a span of 150 years; and both original one-of-a-kind, and early mass-produced, artwork relating to Lincoln and the Civil War era.
The Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana comprises more than 17,000 items, including artifacts, photographs, statues, paintings, popular prints, broadsides, philately, collectibles and miniatures, as well as numismatics. Nearly 100 original manuscripts and the entire, legendary Claude Simmons collection, which consists of a dozen bankers’ boxes of Lincoln-related materials and scrapbooks, also is included. In addition, the gift includes some 12,000 published volumes (many of them exceptionally rare), separated into two collections: the Lincoln Book and Pamphlet Collection and the Civil War/Collateral Book and Pamphlet Collection, comprehensively covering historical writing on the Civil War era from 1860 to the present, and including nearly every title ever published on Lincoln.