After two years of difficult negotiations, the rare Milestones of Science book collection returned to Buffalo today.
The valuable volumes will remain here under an exchange completed today by the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library and the Buffalo Museum of Science.
The museum swapped the 198-book set for the library's incomplete folio edition of John James Audubon's "Birds of America," which will be auctioned to raise funds for museum endowment, collection and research activities.
The Milestones' return from storage in New York City concludes a tug-of-war that began in 1994, when the museum shipped the rare books, some hundreds of years old, to Christie's auction house.
Critics accused the museum of plotting to sell a community treasure for cash, and when the plan came under scrutiny from Erie County, the museum's largest funding source, the books were taken off the auction block.
The museum and the library then began negotiating to exchange the Milestones, some of which were displayed today at a library news conference, for the incomplete Audubon prints.
Some of the volumes, which had not been displayed for decades, are in poor condition. The collection will be restored and eventually put on public view as part of the library's rare-books collection.
The library owns a superior collection of the Audubon folio, which also is part of the rare-books collection.
Mary Ann Kresse, chairwoman of the museum board, termed the trade "an ideal solution" to the controversy.
The books "will receive all of the care and respect they truly deserve," pledged Robert J. Plache, library board chairman.
Nonetheless, money -- lots of it -- must be raised to restore and showcase the books. Major donors reportedly are ready to funnel as much as $1 million through the Library Foundation.
Officials were not sure when the Milestones of Science will be unveiled because a new climate-controlled space must be made for them somewhere in the already cramped Central Library.