Treasures to be discovered at the Legation

By Grecia Álvarez, MLIS, Guest blogger

Grecia, Dunya and Majda inside the rare books cage
Grecia, Dunya and Majda inside the rare books cage

When we started sifting through our collection to cull our rare books from the regular shelves and put them into their new home in “the cage” we never imagined we would find books dating from 1572, or even a parchment signed by King Philip II of Spain (Philip I of Portugal). In fact, we started out by pulling books dating from 1920 and earlier and soon found that our cage was overflowing, so that we had to cut back to books printed before 1911. Previously, these books were intermingled with our regular collection, which focuses mainly on Morocco, but it was decided that these books required special protection, and thus the cage, a small room with an iron gate, was born. Our rare books cover a breadth of topics, from early accounts of European exploration of the region, to government treatises, geographical studies, books signed by illustrious figures (including a book belonging to former Prime Minister of Spain Antonio Cánovas del Castillo). We even have copies of an 1889 edition of Washington Irving’s The Life of Mahomet and a first edition of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad.

The job of reining in the rare books has been immensely entertaining. One notable discovery has been a scrapbook from 1935 detailing efforts by Tangier residents to nominate local hero Sixto Silva for the “Cruz de Beneficiencia” (Cross of the Beneficence awarded in Spain) and the Spanish Red Cross Medal of Honor. Even though Silva was a British subject, he was well-loved among the Spanish community in Tangier for his charity and tireless efforts in fundraising for the poor. He was also an avid patron of the arts and put on many plays at the Gran Teatro Cervantes. With the money collected from the plays he would fund local hospitals and make it easier for the poor to receive treatment. While we don’t know who put together the scrapbook, we do know that they were a meticulous collector of information regarding Silva’s feats. Thanks to that person’s efforts, we know that a committee functioning out of local cafés was able to come up with the money to pay for Silva’s awards of recognition. The letters and newspaper articles related to this outpouring of gratitude by local residents are a testament to Silva’s philanthropic spirit and to the Tangier of days past.

While we have made great inroads in cataloging our rare books, this project is nowhere near complete. The people who donated their collections to TALIM left us a wealth of books, but also of maps, pamphlets and photographs. In the future, we hope to be able to catalog these materials and make them available to our researchers. We have discovered photos from the 1925 Rif War and photos of American and Moroccan statesmen, among others, that ought to be preserved for posterity. Ideally, we could offer some of these invaluable resources to the wider world, by making an online photographic archive. We hope that this will be a call to interested individuals with conservation skills and time. There are many treasures to be discovered at the Legation and through our efforts they are becoming ever more discoverable.

(This is the second guest post by Grecia Álvarez.  Click here for her bio and to read her earlier post, “TALIM Library Catalog Finds an Online Home.”

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