The Collector

April 21st, 2007

Six years ago Maury A. Bromsen decided to pay tribute to his childhood hero, Sim—n Bol’var, the 19th-century leader of independence movements in colonial Spanish America. He did so by donating his Bol’var collection to the John Carter Brown Library (JCB), a collection that turned out to be the largest and finest grouping of Bol’var portraits, iconography, and manuscripts outside Latin America. "I know it is safe," Bromsen told the Boston Globe. "It has purpose, and since I didn't need the money, I didn't have to sell it."

"The sadness," he added, "is when I look on my walls, I have no more Bol’var."

Bromsen, who died at the age of 86 on October 11 at his home in Boston, was a leading dealer and collector of antiquarian books, especially those of colonial Spanish America. He left the bulk of his estate to the JCB Library, whose focus is the early Americas. The bequest of cash and books is worth more than $5 million, says JCB director Norman Fiering, who was executor of Bromsen's will. The gift will allow the library to endow a curatorship in Latin America. Bromsen also left a more modest collection of Abraham Lincoln material to the John Hay Library.

Bromsen's relationship with the JCB dates back twenty years, when Fiering sought him out after hearing of his book collection. In 1996 Bromsen was named honorary curator and bibliographer of the library's Latin American collection. His 2000 donation created the library's Bromsen-Bol’var room, named in memory of Bromsen's parents.

As a book dealer Bromsen saw some national treasures cross his desk. In 1969 he paid $9,000 for a first-edition copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass - the highest price paid up to that date for a printed volume of American literature. In 1986, while appraising the personal papers of William Randolph Hearst Sr., Bromsen discovered a 1787 letter from the secretary of the Continental Congress. The letter invited the thirteen U.S. governors to a convention to revise the articles of confederation and establish a national government. At Bromsen's urging, the Hearsts donated the letter, considered the first document in the making of the U.S. Constitution, to the Library of Congress.

A graduate of City College in New York City, Bromsen received a master's in history at UC Berkeley. He completed the coursework for a doctorate at Harvard but never submitted a dissertation. In 1952 the government of Chile made him a Knight Commander in the Orden al MŽrito Bernardo O' Higgins, and in 1985 the Republic of Venezuela inducted him into the Orden Francisco de Miranda, First Class. Ruth Simmons awarded him a President's Medal in 2003.

Bromsen has no immediate survivors.

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
January / February 2006