Jay I. Kislak (1922–2018) lived an extraordinary—and extraordinarily productive—life. He brought remarkable energy and passion to a wide array of endeavors—collecting, education, aviation, business, and philanthropy. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Jay joined the realty firm that his father founded in 1906. After graduating from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and serving as a Naval Aviator during World War II, Jay expanded the family’s business to Miami, where the Kislak Organization quickly became an integral part of South Florida’s business, civic, and cultural fabric.
A nascent collector when he moved to Miami in the early 1950s, the historical milieu of Florida inspired Jay’s greatest achievement as a collector: the more than 4,000 books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts documenting the history and cultures of Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica that were given to the Library of Congress.
And while Jay’s collecting extended to Impressionist, Modern, and Contemporary art; to Prints, Photographs, and Important Design; to Folk Art and many other areas, it is as a collector of Books and Manuscripts that he will be best and longest remembered. Even after his spectacular gift to the Library of Congress, Jay continued to collect books, still focused on exploration, but shifting his attention further north.
Sotheby’s is delighted to offer a varied selection of works from Jay’s library, including the magnificent Jean Perrette set of the Great and Small Voyages collected and published by the De Bry family; the Thomas W. Streeter-Frank S. Streeter copy of J. F. W. Des Barres’s Atlantic Neptune; William Bourne’s A Regiment for the Sea; and Richard Eden’s The Arte of Navigation.
Manuscript Americana is represented by letters and documents by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Anthony Wayne, Joseph Brant, Zachary Taylor, Ronald Reagan, Louis Armstrong, and more.
In addition to exploration and Americana, highlights include the 1566 second edition of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, the first that incorporated Georg Rheticus’s Narratio prima, annotated by two seventeenth-century Copernican scholars; an octavo set of Audubon and Bachman’s Quadrupeds in the original parts; Jean Baptiste Geoffroy's ca. 1873 Nouveau dictionnaire élémentaire latin-français, annotated with some 350 pen and ink drawings by the sixteen-year-old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; an autograph letter draft by Jay’s fellow aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry incorporating three original pencil sketches of the Little Prince; and Daniel Giraud Elliot’s Monograph of the Felidae or Family of Cats, dramatically illustrated by Josef Wolf.
The Kislak Family Foundation has taken up the mantle of Jay’s many interests and its mission is to support leadership and innovation in the fields of education, the arts and humanities, animal welfare, and environmental preservation. Sotheby’s series of sales of his collection, of which this is the conclusion, will assist the foundation in continuing to fulfill Jay’s vision and carry on his good works.
Indeed, Jay’s philanthropic endeavors were as diverse as his collecting interests—and the wide range of his collecting is revealed in this remarkable collection of books and manuscripts.
An exhibition will be open from the 19th through the 25th of April. Private viewings are available upon request.