The Historical Record

By Patricia S. Whitesell

Can you help locate this bookcase? This one and others like it once held the personal library of the University's first president, Henry P. Tappan. Photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library and Michigan Alumnus magazine

Did you know that Henry P. Tappan, first president of the University, had an extensive personal library of over 2,600 volumes?

Tappan's library reflected his passion for reading and learning, and the high value he placed on higher education and scholarly activities. Tappan instilled these values in his son, John, who served as the University's librarian. And Tappan often gave books as special gifts.

Dr. Asa Gray, professor of botany, obtained the bulk of the first volumes in the University library's collection during his tour of Europe in 1838, returning with 3,700 volumes representing history, biography, voyages and travels, poetry, statistics and science. The Tappans continued to promote library acquisitions in the 1850s and 60s.

When the Tappans left the University for Europe in 1863, Tappan left his personal books behind. When it became clear he would not return to America, Tappan endeavored to sell the books. President James B. Angell contemplated the purchase with the intention of forming an alcove in the University library, but the sale was ultimately consummated with the University of Minnesota (which also attempted to acquire Tappan as its president).

Left behind were two of Tappan's tall, oak bookcases. Tappan suggested they be sold, but they were kept by the family of Tappan's attorney, H. J. Beakes, who effected the book sale. When the Beakes estate was dismantled in 1927, the bookcases were acquired by Regent Junius Beal and donated to the University. Beal attached to each case a brass tablet that read:

"This bookcase was the property of Dr. Henry P. Tappan, President of the University of Michigan, 1852­63. Presented to the University by Junius E. Beal, 1927."

The bookcases initially were kept in the President's Office, but their present location is unknown. A recent, preliminary search has not been successful.

Tappan's bookcases are an early piece of the University's history and they should be located and appropriately honored.

Have you seen Tappan's two bookcases? If so, please send any information on their whereabouts to the author via e-mail at, or call her at 763-6048.