Spring being the season when folk “longen to goon on pilgrimages”, we thought we would make several pilgrimages of a humanist nature to area libraries. First up: The Lloyd Library and Museum.
It’s easy to pass the Lloyd Library at the corner of Court and Plum without realizing the wealth it contains. If civilization looks like it’s finally decided to collapse, you’ll find me knocking on this botanical and pharmaceutical library’s front door with freshly baked cookies, canned goods, and all the toothpaste I can find in the hope of bribing my way into its five levels, the lowest of which was once probably outfitted as a fallout shelter by former Lloyd librarian Corinne Miller Simon given her predilection for Civil Defense. Reinforced concrete ribs stand closely spaced across the ceiling, suggesting Armageddon-proof engineering on the part of the building’s 1970s architects. It all began as the collection of three pharmacist brothers, John Uri, Nelson Ashley, and Curtis Gates Lloyd. John Uri might be the most famous, the all-around Renaissance man, renowned in scientific circles and the eccentric author of novels like the fantastic Etidorhpa (Aphrodite, spelled backwards). Clifton Avenue makes a sudden right-hand turn in the Gaslight District to avoid running straight into his magnificent home. Nelson Ashley was the “George Bailey” of the three, passing up dreams of piloting a riverboat to become the money-savvy backbone of Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists Inc. The youngest, Curtis Gates Lloyd, is the favorite of Betsy Kruthoffer, MLS, the Lloyd’s Cataloger, who has agreed to show me around. Curtis, Betsy says, was the world-traveling explorer with a healthy sense of humor, as evident in his Crittenden, KY memorial, which pokes fun at the tendency of men of science to name their discoveries after themselves.
An apparatus of convoluted tubes, cogs and dials stands in the Lloyd’s lobby. This is John Uri’s “Cold Still” (link to an explanation on their blog, “Lloyd Unplugged”), invented for the extraction of botanical essences that would be destroyed by heat. The Lloyd’s recently-renovated lobby is replete with artifacts and pictures of the Lloyd’s history and the family whose name it bears. Off the lobby you’ll find a gallery featuring regular exhibits of works related to botany and the collection. It’s no surprise the current exhibit, “Some Like it Hot, the Little Known World of the Chili Peppers” begins with intricate etchings and plates in books on the subject, but it includes much more: original artwork, examples of products and medications, photos of present-day open-air markets where peppers are bought and sold.
Betsy and I share enthusiasm for rare books. Summers, she attends Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and cites each rare edition’s uniqueness as part of the thrill. While many of the books contain etchings and even hand-painted illustrations of great beauty, the collection as a whole represents a very practical body of knowledge, directly related to your health and relationship with the world. These are pristine, closed stacks, comprising about 200,000 volumes and serials of which the Lloyd currently subscribes to about 200 publications on botany, pharmacology and related subjects, cataloged according to the Library of Congress Classification. Botanical and mycological specimens once represented a significant portion of the collection and, while today the Lloyd does own works that include pressed plant material, most of the botanical, mycological and non-book collections have gone to other homes.
While the Lloyd’s collection draws working scholars, authors, artists and researchers from around the globe, it also contains artifacts dating back to the development of modernity. A first edition of On the Origin of the Species stands on the shelf in the Lloyd’s rare book cage. Betsy removes a volume published in Geneva, in 1678 and opens it to show me Jean-Jacques Rosseau’s signature and marginalia. And this is only the beginning. They also own an 1813 letter by Thomas Jefferson to Francois Andre Michaux. As the English writer and politician Augustine Birrell said, “Libraries are not made, they grow”. This is all too true of the Lloyd. Betsy lets me try out the exquisite, Swiss-engineered action of the moveable shelves they’re having installed to increase their capacity. With the turn of a crank, massive shelves laden with hundreds of years of accrued knowledge slide smoothly across the floor. Sure, everything’s going digital these days, but some things you just can’t digitize, and portions of the Lloyd’s collection demonstrate this.
Cincinnati is lucky to count as part of its history those three industrious brothers and as part of its future, their legacy, The Lloyd. -Ed Scripsi