MSU receives “extraordinary” Lincoln and Civil War collection

Former Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, a nationally known Abraham Lincoln authority,  and his wife Virginia Williams, will give MSU a massive private Abraham Lincoln and Civil War collection collected by the couple over the past 50 years. (courtesy photo)

A private collection of artifacts from President Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War were gifted to Mississippi State University by former Rhode Island Chief Justice and Lincoln authority Frank J. Williams.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum and Williams announced the gift on Tuesday, which Keenum said will transform the university into one of the nation’s leading destinations for scholars and students of the Civil War.

The collection - which has been valued at $3 million - is considered the nation’s largest privately-owned holding of Lincoln research and display material. The over Civil War material is included in the overall value.

“Mississippi State University is immensely proud to receive the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, a truly unique and comprehensive collection that provides unprecedented insight into the life and times of our 16th president and the Civil War era,” Keenum said in a media release. “With this incredibly generous donation and their guiding hand in bringing what has become the U.S. Grant Presidential Library to our campus, the Williamses have made MSU one of the nation’s foremost repositories for research into this pivotal period in our nation’s history.”

The Williamses have also offered a promised gift of $500,000 for the founding of the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Research Fund, which will serve as an endowment to MSU to curate the material in the future.

“As a longtime supporter of the Ulysses S. Grant Association—which I am so proud to say is now permanently housed at MSU—I believe the college is the perfect repository for the material that my wife and I have spent a lifetime gathering, preserving, studying and making available on request to research scholars among our countless friends in the Lincoln world,” Frank Williams said.  

The Lincoln collection consists of more than 17,000 items, such as photographs, statues, paintings, popular prints, broadsides, philately, collectibles and miniatures, as well as numismatics.

Additionally, the Lincoln collection includes 100 original manuscripts and the entire Claude Simmons collection, which consists of a dozen bankers’ boxes of Lincoln-related materials and scrapbooks.  Also included are 12,000 published volumes, separated into two collections: the Lincoln Book and Pamphlet Collection and the Civil War/Collateral Book and Pamphlet Collection, which covers historical writing on the Civil War era from 1860 to the present.

MSU Dean of Libraries Frances Coleman said in a media release the university library is indebted to Frank and Virginia Williams for entrusting the collection to its care.

“Our goal is to display its great treasures on a rotating basis while making the entire archive available to researchers throughout the world by cataloging each piece, digitizing the unique materials, and developing a website for the collection,” Coleman said.