Fall Exhibitions Shine Light on Rare Books & an Elusive Donor

Tisch special collection piece

Beyond Words is the largest ever North American exhibition of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, featuring over 250 magnificent books in Boston-area collections, including three beautifully illuminated and bound volumes from Tisch Library Special Collections.  We are able to participate in this ground-breaking exhibit because of the generosity of one particular donor - Walter F. Welch, Jr., Class of 1928. 


On January 12, 1953, Welch wrote to Raymond L. Walkley, a librarian at Tufts:

Your letter came informing me of some books I sent the Tufts College Library. It is a very great pleasure for me to be able to do this and I hope to send more in the future. However, I do not wish to consume your valuable time with many separate acknowledgements so I shall assume the first will cover for them all.

Walter F Welch, 1928

Walter F. Welch, Jr., 1928

Notwithstanding this admonition, gifts and acknowledgements flowed between Medford and Welch’s Santa Monica home throughout the next two decades: papyrus fragments, Medieval & Renaissance manuscripts, incunables and early printed books, fine bindings, modern fine press editions, works on the history of writing and printing, all to fulfill his ambition of providing Tufts students examples from the entire history of writing and printing. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of his graduation from Tufts, he sent a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible.

MS 6 gospel sequence

15th century Gospel sequences, Ms. 6

Welch’s extensive gift forms the core of Tufts’s rare books collection, a valuable resource for students and faculty across the humanities and social sciences. Yet when it came to seeing his gifts in situ, he proved an elusive quarry. A scheduled visit to an exhibition at the Eaton Library in 1957 left the library staff disappointed – despite the best intentions, Welch was a no-show. Eventually he made one visit, to see the new Wessell Library and its facilities to house his collection and the university archives. For most of the time during his engagement with the library, he was content to stay in Santa Monica. Despite living far from centers of the rare book trade in New York and London, he obtained hundreds of valuable books for Tufts. In June, 1954, he wrote, “Perhaps they will interest some of the students in forming a most satisfying hobby and therefore they in turn will donate books to the college library in the years to come.”

Ms 7, 16th century

16th century Commission, Ms. 7

In another letter, dated December 10, 1956, Welch wrote, “When I read of Harvard’s and other institutions’ huge and magnificent collections, I feel like an ant carrying one grain at a time trying to make a noticeable accumulation.” The retiring donor, whose collection today is the object of increasing attention on campus and beyond, might have marveled had he known that in November, 2016, he would be highlighted in Ms. Eze’s introductory essay to the Beyond Words catalogue, an “unobtrusive benefactor… intent on forming a teaching collection for Tufts on the history of writing from ‘cave painting to comic strips.’”

Beyond Words includes three of Welch’s gifts:

Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections

Manuscripts from Church & Cloister

Houghton Library
Through December 10, 2016

Manuscripts for Pleasure & Piety (including Tufts University Ms. 7 & Ms. 9)

McMullen Museum of Art
Through December 11, 2016

Italian Renaissance Books (including Tufts University Ms. 6 in the “Humanist’s studiolo”)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Through January 16, 2017

A Second Exhibit

MS 2 Book of Hours

15th century Book of Hours, Ms. 2

Last winter, Tufts art history major Mary Travers A’18 uncovered more than twenty manuscript fragments donated by Walter Welch. Some of these are on exhibit, along with Tufts University Ms. 2, a 15th Century Book of Hours donated by Welch, in the Koppelman Gallery of the Aidekman Arts Center through Fall 2016.

The Tufts Gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm and Thursdays until 8pm.


7:45am - 1:00am