In the bowels of the Rare Book Room, Christian D. Kelleher, Archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection, located seven boxes of materials containing the personal papers of Simon S. Lucuix and one file folder related to the acquisition of the Lucuix library. The seven boxes hold unsorted personal correspondence, mounds of newspaper clippings, invoices and receipts, advertisements and promotional literature about men’s fine clothing and liquor, photographs, event programs, student examination papers, pamphlets, and sketches of bookcases. There were several unused note cards illustrated with romantic images of gaucho life, probably reproductions of watercolors by Federico Reilly. None of this material has been inventoried but during the 1970s, a preliminary attempt was made to sort and organize some of the larger items, among them mounted reproductions of unidentified artwork.
How Lucuix used his library
This treasure trove reveals details about his personal life, tastes, and habits as well as many clues about how Lucuix utilized his library to provide reference and research services to others. His correspondence includes requests from historians, journalists, legislators, and students for books and specific information; there are related notes of thanks for his support, often acknowledged by gift books from the author. A particularly explicit request from Conrado Monfort entreats Lucuix to provide him with materials about the French biologist Saint Hilaire and other explorers who had passed through the Rio Negro basin. Monfort, owner of El Litoral–a newspaper in Fray Bentos, Uruguay–was planning a surprise commemorative issue of the newspaper, about which Monfort pleaded Lucuix keep in confidence. Lucuix maintained a fruitful correspondence with directors of various research centers, embassies, and the ministries of several countries who provided him with current publications.
Documents in the office files suggest that the sale of the Lucuix library was arranged through none other than Nettie Lee Benson. Benson, at the time, represented the collective acquisitions program for several US research universities in Latin America under the sponsorship of New York publisher and bookseller, Stechert-Hafner. Between 1961 and 1963, Benson traveled throughout Latin America in search of publishers, booksellers, government agencies, university presses, and authors willing to provide multiple copies for resale by Stechert-Hafner, which in turn fulfilled purchase orders from research libraries in the United States. Benson’s directive was to locate sources of recent publications but during her trips, she heard of the availability of complete libraries such as the Lucuix.
The purchase of the library by the University of Texas
So far, I have not found any clues about the person or persons who linked Benson to Lucuix. Don Simon purchased books from various Montevidean booksellers including Adolfo Linardi, El Librero de la Feria, and Barreiros y Ramos. In Buenos Aires, he dealt with the Libreria La Incognita and the Libreria del Plata but probably did business with many other dealers internationally. The University of Texas purchased the Lucuix library on November 1, 1963. According to the bill of sale signed by Lucuix, his library of 21,363 books was packed into 604 boxes bailed into 10 shipping containers. The purchase amount was US$40,000.00, the equivalent of US $275,000 today.
Of the purchases recorded in the annual reports of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), the Lucuix was by far the largest single collection acquired by a member library during the 1960s. Other collections acquired by American universities between 1961 and 1971 seldom mounted to more than 2,000 to 3,000 titles, which makes it more surprising and intriguing to find so little information about the Lucuix library. More details about the purchase wait to be discovered in the Benson archives.
It is likely that economic circumstances forced Lucuix to sell his books.
During the 1960s, inflation battered Uruguay. When demand for wool and grain declined after the Korean War, the Uruguayan government attempted to revive the national economy by borrowing and encouraging production for domestic consumption but finally succumbed to devaluing its currency. Once Europe reconstructed their industries and the United States recovered from the wars began to export, Uruguay’s outdated industries could not compete. The related unemployment, breakdown in services and industrial failures set off an economic crisis that triggered union and student protests and escalated into urban guerilla warfare uncontrollable by the police. A conservative government brought back in 1966, unable to quash the activities of the Tupamaros and other less violent opposition groups, eventually established a military council, unleashing the worst sort of repressive measures that lasted until 1985. This period of stagnation and dictatorship set off a wave of emigration and a brain drain from which Uruguay is still recuperating.
Contrast in economic conditions
In contrast, the U.S. economy was expanding rapidly during the years after World War II. Funds never or since available to research libraries flowed from federal government programs and philanthropic institutions anxious to learn more about the cultures and the stability of governance structures of countries in Latin America. Whole collections of books, and with it habits and mentalities, could be purchased and were.
According to a 1983 interview by Stanley R. Ross with Benson, the monies allocated to the Latin American Collection by the University of Texas President Harry Ransom came from gift funds about which she knew nothing. In hindsight, this statement appears disingenuous, as American universities were mounting huge area study programs funded by the federal government through taxes allocated for the National Defense Education Act of 1958. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations also made large contributions to these efforts. To date, many regard the 1960s as the golden age of research libraries. Support for the development of comprehensive research libraries stemmed from the belief that the strength of area studies served the interests of many disciplines such as geography, anthropology, and language arts.
Today the incentives for developing, enhancing, and sharing research collections are different but as laden with the politics and economics of knowledge as before.
Graphics: Gaucho by Federico Reilly in PaginaGaucho