Gelman receives $5 million gift of historical bank records

The PNC Financial Services Group gave Gelman Library an archive donation valued at $5.2 million that includes documents of Abraham Lincoln’s, Francis Scott Key’s and Susan B. Anthony’s bank activities.

The gift from the Riggs Bank archives is the largest gift the Gelman Library has ever received, according to a University press statement released last week. The archive helps trace the economic growth of Washington D.C. and the nation.

“It really is a venerable storehouse of materials,” said University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, adding that the Riggs Bank archives “add plausibility to our (existing) collections.”

In addition to the documents, PNC will donate about $125,000 to allow the University “to go through the stuff, complete preservation and get it on display,” Trachtenberg said.

University Librarian Jack Siggins said the Riggs Bank collection fits well with the Gelman Library’s other documents and papers from political figures.

“One of the main considerations was that we will make this collection available to the public and to researchers very soon,” Siggins said. “What we really want to have is material that will benefit students, faculty and researchers.”

Trachtenberg has previously served on the Board of Directors of the D.C.-based Riggs. The bank was bought out by PNC Bank in 2005 following allegations of embezzlement within Riggs.

Siggins said he hopes to display the documents on Gelman Library’s first floor after that area’s renovations are complete. The renovation project is still in its fundraising stages and should begin in about 18 months.

Siggins added that other universities, government agencies and museums outside of Washington also vied for ownership of the Riggs Bank historical records. Some applicants include the Library of Congress and two other area universities, though Siggins did not say which ones.

Steven Mandeville-Gamble, head of Special Collections at Gelman Library, described the archives as “a really rich treasure trove of information for undergraduate research, graduate dissertations and PhD theses.”

Mandeville-Gamble said after some sections of the Riggs Bank archives go on display at Gelman, the library intends to display an even larger portion of the collection two to three years from now.

In addition to ledger records of some famous 19th century Americans, Mandeville-Gamble said the collection also includes account records from Riggs Bank’s financing of the Mexican-American War and the United States’ purchase of Alaska. These documents, he says, date as far back as the early 1800s.

In 1998, Riggs Bank hired professional historian and PNC Archivist Mary Beth Corrigan to asses the value and importance of this collection. Corrigan completed her inventory of the documents last July.

Corrigan added that “I think GW has a very strong collection of Washington’s political and economic documents, and (the Riggs collection) will definitely strengthen this collection.”

-Brandon Butler contributed to this report.

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