- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Flowers, bonbons or a bauble inside a Tiffany's box may be the gift of choice for most ladies on Valentine's Day; whereas gentlemen always like a fine silk tie picked out with tender loving care and the taste to match.

For those attending the Folger Shakespeare Library's Adopt-a-Book Night event last Thursday night, however, similar offerings would have been considered sweet but decidedly low-brow. Offer rare incunabula, hand-tooled vellum and gilt-edged, full-calf bindings if you want to cause a bibliophile's heart to flutter.

Or perhaps an Arion Press Folio Edition of the Bible, one of only 400 copies bound in black linen with illuminated initial letters and a custom-made slipcase available for one's bibliomaniacal sweetheart starting at a minimum bid of $12,000.

"You can't beat the 'Song of Songs' for Valentine's Day sentiment," event chairwoman Marcia McGhee Carter chirped, casting an appreciative eye on the silent auction's top offering as she greeted librarian Richard J. Kuhta during cocktails in the Old Reading Room.

The item, which included a first-class air-hotel package to San Francisco, seemed a bit steep for the relatively intimate affair attended by 100 or so guests, but Mr. Kuhta had already dealt with the eventuality there might not be any takers. He previously lined up a secret donor to reimburse the $10,000 purchase price so the Folger "couldn't lose."

"I only look like a librarian," the savvy negotiator said with a laugh.

While there were romantic dinners at top-notch eateries available as well, the most spirited bidding was for private tours of Mrs. Carter's private library in Georgetown (she is a noted collector and dealer) and real estate developer Albert Small's vast collection of materials related to the history of Washington, the presidents, the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress.

Kevin Hennessey's generous bid of $1,500 won what might be one of the last visits to the complete collection, before the Declaration of Independence items get shipped off to Mr. Small's alma mater, the University of Virginia, where they will be housed in a new library building scheduled for completion by February 2004.

John Macomber, Esther Coopersmith, John Irelan, Armita Colt, Kinsey Marable, Donald and Susan Rappaport, Outerbridge and Georgina Horsey and Bill and Louisa Newlin were fascinated by the curatorial staff's demonstration of conservation techniques at a temporary worktable across from the bar and buffet.

The library's 300,000-plus collection was "in pretty good shape," conservator Linda Hohneke reported as she showed observers how to counter the hardening and embrittling ("red rot") and powdering ("red decay") of leather bindings due to the deleterious long-term effects of tanning agents, light, atmosphere and handling.

That left the main event in the New Reading Room, where 16th- and 17th-century books, folios, letters, drawings and other recent acquisitions were displayed and made available for "adoption" at prices ranging from $100-$5,000. (The event raised $46,000.)

The most costly item was also the evening's sentimental favorite: a collection of news, texts and broadsides related to the Ottoman Turk invasion of Europe in 1683. Already spoken for in advance, it was a gift honoring the Folger's soon-to-retire director, Werner Gundersheimer, and his wife Karen, from every member of the Folger's board serving throughout his 1984-2002 tenure.

"It is especially close to our hearts," said Mr. Gundersheimer, sounding rather pleased indeed with what turned out to be the "perfect" Valentine gift.

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