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The Origins of the Bentley Rare Book Museum A Visual History

. . . Rare books are what we need to have. . . . That would be the mark of a great institution saving the culture of the past to give to the future.

--Robert B. Williams

The Start of Something Great

The Bentley Rare Book Gallery was established in 1986 and officially opened its doors in April 1988. Mr. Robert B. Williams, former KSU Library Director, founded the Gallery along with Mr. Fred Bentley Sr., a prominent lawyer in Marietta. The establishment of the Bentley Rare Book Gallery served the unique purpose of bringing a world-class rare book program to Kennesaw State College and the greater Cobb County area. Its main goal was to teach the campus and local community about the history of the book in the English-speaking world. The space was named in honor of Mr. Fred Bentley Sr. and his wife Sara Bentley who donated seed money and prestigious collection of 2,500 rare books to the Gallery.

Image: Bentley Rare Book Gallery, 1988. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

Building the Gallery

The Bentley Rare Book Gallery was constructed to authentically represent a late eighteenth-century gentleman's library. Materials used to construct the Gallery were historically accurate, even down to the varnish used for the wood, which came from a 1772 cookery book. The recipe called for a slaughtered ox! The gallery was furnished with pieces of the time period, including a 1735 writing desk, a 1740 lowboy, and an early nineteenth-century table.

Image: Mr. Fred Bentley Sr. standing in the Bentley Rare Book Gallery during construction, circa 1987. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

Article written about Bentley Rare Book Gallery featured in Cobb Digest, 1989. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.
Various photos from the Bentley Rare Book Gallery, 1990s. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

The Collections

The founding materials of the Bentley Rare Book Gallery included first edition books by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Walter Scott, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rudyard Kipling, and other nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers.

Although these materials formed the seed of the collection, Mr. Williams envisioned a room of materials that demonstrated book history from 900 CE to the present. Over the past thirty-four years, the collection has grown to boast over 10,000 diverse items that range in date from antiquity to the present day. The collection now includes a variety of sub-collections including biblical texts, illustrations and prints, Harlem Renaissance literature, children's literature, Cherokee language materials, medieval manuscripts, Shakespearean texts, early printed books, and much more.

Article announcing the opening of the Bentley Rare Book Gallery featured in the "Atlanta Journal and Constitution," 1988. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

Background image: First edition novels written by Louisa May Alcott, 2018. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

Outreach programs, circa 2009-2011. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

The Bentley Rare Book Museum

In April 2017, the Bentley Rare Book Gallery became the Bentley Rare Book Museum to increase accessibility to the rare book program on campus. The Bentley Rare Book Museum provides patrons with interactive exhibits, free and hands-on programs, and instruction sessions to teach the history of the book.

Image: Opening of the Bentley Rare Book Museum, 2017. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.

Photos from Bentley Rare Book Open House programs, 2018 - 2020. Courtesy Bentley Rare Book Museum.
(leftGetting Medieval exhibit, 2017; (right) Discovering Bronzes exhibit, 2019. Courtesy of the Bentley Rare Book Museum.