Exotic collections draw scholars worldwide

If you’re looking for a Marvel Comics edition of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” or an original copy of The Black Panther newspaper, Kansas University’s library system is your place.

Here are highlights of some of the more interesting collections housed within KU libraries.

¢ Wilcox collection: This collection, begun in the 1960s by then-KU student Laird Wilcox, includes hundreds of thousands of items related to political movements from 1960 to the present.

Examples include about 200 copies of the official newspaper of the Black Panther Party, leaflets distributed by the radical left-wing group Students for a Democratic Society, and anti-communism pamphlets from the Arizona-based right-wing group We, the People. There also are buttons, record albums, audio and video tapes and bumper stickers.

Archivist Becky Schulte said scholars from around the world have come to use the collection, as well as students at KU who are working on papers.

“The ’60s are a very popular topic. I think students are kind of wondering in some ways what their parents were doing when they were in school,” she said. “The war in Iraq, I think, has generated more interest in Vietnam.”

¢ Collmer collection: Last summer, KU paid a six-figure sum to obtain the collection of a former Baylor University English professor, Robert G. Collmer, who meticulously collected the works of John Bunyan, author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” The book, a religious allegory that tells the story of Christian the pilgrim, is the most frequently printed work originally written in the English language.

The collection encompasses about 750 materials, most of which are different editions of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” including the first illustrated version of the book, a Marvel Comics version, and copies in Inuit, Spanish and Korean, among other languages.

Rick Clement, head of special collections for the Spencer Research Library, swung the deal to buy the collection. He said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss details of how much the school paid.

“We just didn’t have much Bunyan at all, and yet lo and behold, Bunyan is one of the greatest authors in the English language,” he said. “We were able to do it before any of the other big libraries got wind.”

¢ Pennell collection: KU houses about 30,000 glass-plate negatives made by Joseph J. Pennell, a commercial photographer who captured small-town life in Junction City between 1891 and 1923.

Featured are photos from Fort Riley and images of Junction City residents in everyday settings.