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Lifetime collection of Buffalo's earliest books finds a home at UB

The books and pamphlets  Eugene Musial collected over his more than nine decades included the first books ever printed and published in Buffalo.

Think about that.

There aren't memorable, first-edition novels, or biographies of early presidents or adventurers. But the government documents, books and other materials offer a rare glimpse into a nearly lost time - Buffalo's earliest years between 1812 and 1875.

The first book ever printed in Buffalo, published in 1812, when the community was a battleground,  is in the collection.  So, too, is the first directory of the village of Buffalo from 1828, the first Buffalo city directory from 1832, with a separate page for the “Names of Colored People” that list about 60 of the first free black men living here, and the first Buffalo Medical Journal from 1846.

An 1828 "Directory of the Village of Buffalo" is among the books in the collection of the late Eugene Musial, who amassed the largest collection of rare books printed in Buffalo in the 1800s. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Musial, who owned bookstores in Amherst and Lockport, spent decades collecting the earliest printed matter he could find about Buffalo.

But since his death at age 94 in February 2012, there was uncertainty over what would happen to these old and fragile materials.

Those concerns were put to rest last week, when the University at Buffalo announced it had purchased the Eugene Musial Buffalo Imprint Collection. The 370 books and pamphlets will be housed in UB's Rare and Special Books Collection.

“Acquiring the Musial Collection allows the University Libraries to provide our students and faculty access to Buffalo’s rich 19th century history,” said Michael Basinski, director of UB Special Collections. “The collection affords the UB Libraries Rare and Special Books Collection an opportunity to celebrate Buffalo’s renaissance by preserving Buffalo’s printing and publishing history.”

Musial's two daughters - Dr. Cora E. Musial in Missouri and Hildegarde J. Berdine in Florida - wanted the collection to remain in Buffalo.

The sisters turned to Musial's friend and fellow collector Ronald L. Cozzi, proprietor of downtown Buffalo's Old Editions Book Shop, to store and organize the collection and find a buyer.  The women said their preference was to keep the collection together and have it remain in Buffalo, Cozzi said.

Collection of 300-plus books of Buffalo dating to 1813 seeks benefactor

After Musial's death, the collection was kept at Cozzi's bookstore. Cozzi and wife, Marilee, were asked to find a good home for the collection and sell it for $90,000.

“We had three years to find a location and found a few institutions that were interested,” Ronald Cozzi said.

The Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass., and UB all showed some interest. A  cash offer also was made from a different interested buyer, Cozzi said.

1834 Niagara Falls guide book. (News file photo)

"It was felt UB was the best place and had the best plan,” he said. “The two sisters both got their degrees from UB, and they wanted to keep these books in Buffalo.”

The acquisition was made possible through contributions by the William S. Hein & Co. Inc., the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and individual donors.

"People in the community came forward," Cozzi said after UB started fundraising for the collection. "The response was strong and the deal was done.”

About 30 books and pamphlets were on display when UB announced the acquisition at a reception in the UB Library.

Other materials include a journal kept by a man imprisoned in the Erie County Jail in 1840; an assortment of guide books of Niagara Falls starting in 1834, including "A Manual for the Use of Visitors to the Falls of Niagara"; the 1824 "Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison," about the woman who spent most of her life living among the Senecas; and religious hymns, government documents and maps.

Cozzi noted that UB hopes the new acquisitions will provide the foundation for a separate Buffalo section in its collection.

"It's a wonderful thing that they've done," Cozzi said of UB. "They stepped up to the plate and also made it possible for future students to have access to this material and learn about Buffalo's printing history."

The books will be digitized and made available online for public viewing.



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