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Kislak Chair for the Study of the History and Cultures of the Early Americas

Jay I. Kislak Collection

The Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress comprises more than 3,000 rare books, maps, documents, paintings, prints, and artifacts related to early American history, dating back to the Pre-Columbian era. Kislak Chairs can make use of this vast collection, as well as others at the Library. Below is a brief introduction to Jay I. Kislak and links to some of the archaeological artifacts available in the Kislak collection.

About Jay I. Kislak

Seated male figure, Las Bocas, Mexico. Olmec, 1100-500 B.C., Cream-slipped ceramic, sculpture. Jay I. Kislak Collection. Library of Congress Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

More than a collector, Jay Kislak was a discoverer. His inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge have inspired a lifelong love of books.

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Mr. Kislak was graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and served as a naval aviator during World War II. After the war, he entered the real estate brokerage and mortgage banking business founded by his father in 1906.

Early in his career, Mr. Kislak moved to Florida and began a fifty-year exploration of the early history of his new home. Attracted to rare maps and books, he began amassing a comprehensive collection on early Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica. Over the years, his interest deepened, and he acquired many rare books and manuscripts, focusing especially on the early years of European exploration.

Mr. Kislak and his wife, a former art curator, expanded their collecting to include artifacts produced by indigenous civilizations before Columbus. As a book collector, Mr. Kislak was intrigued by the art of the Maya--a highly literate culture that developed a complex system of hieroglyphs used to record their history in various ways: on architectural elements, pottery, personal items, as well as in books.

With Jay Kislak's gift to the Library, thousands of books and artifacts will become available to researchers and the public, through scholarly and education programs and exhibitions.


This biography is part of the Exploring the Early Americas Exhibition.

Selected Materials from the Jay I. Kislak Collection