George N. Meissner (1872-1960), a local St. Louis businessman, spent his retirement pursuing civic and collecting interests. During the 1930s and 1940s, he assembled the collection of approximately 2500 printed and 350 manuscript items, which his family donated to Washington University along with funds for the construction of Special Collections’ original reading room and storage space.
The rare books in Meissner’s collection represent fine books from the 15th to 20th century, including medieval illuminated manuscripts and early printed books. Meissner focused on first editions of literary works, works signed by their authors, and beautiful books in fine bindings. Literary works in his collection include many works by Mark Twain, St. Louis native Eugene Field, and Charles Dickens. Meissner’s collection consists of some of the most beautiful bindings in the department, including jeweled bindings, fore-edge paintings, Cosway bindings that feature paintings set into leather, and Kelliegram bindings with intricately cut leather mosaics.
In addition to the printed books in his collection, Meissner collected medieval and modern illuminated manuscripts, literary manuscripts, and an extensive autograph collection. The manuscript collection includes manuscripts, documents, and correspondence from authors, statesmen, every President of the United States to Woodrow Wilson, and Michelangelo.