BERKELEY — Remember all those things you studied in history class?

The Donner Party? The Gold Rush?

The Bancroft Library has them.

And not in a metaphorical sense, either. The library literally owns little pieces of those historical moments you studied in grade school.

The nugget that sparked the Gold Rush? The Bancroft has that.

The only diary kept by a member of the Donner Party? Got that, too.

A personal letter from then-President Thomas Jefferson to his friend and physician Benjamin Rush — oh, and by the way, doc, you may be interested to know Congress just approved this plan to explore west of the Mississippi and I think this fellow named Meriwether Lewis should lead it? Yup. It's in the Bancroft.

It's seriously cool stuff most people will never get a chance to see in real life, but for the next several months, it's all on display at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum.

Bancroft Library officials have selected more than 350 of the library's rarest and most historic holdings for an exhibit celebrating the library's 100th year.

Running through Dec. 3, the exhibit combines pieces of California history with first editions of Copernicus and Galileo, ancient Egyptian papyri with images of the Beat poets, mementos of the Black Panther movement with an extremely rare and fragile 16th-century scroll that illustrates the life, loves, wars and rituals of Cuicatec rulers who lived in what is now Oaxaca, Mexico.


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The scroll, called the Codex Fernandez Leal, is probably the most valuable item in the library's collection.

"We tried to go for what were unique things that would show the high points of the collection," said Theresa Salazar, curator of the Bancroft's Western Americana Collection. They started with the some of the oldest items, Salazar said, but kept right on going up to more modern holdings, including images of the Bay Bridge retrofit. "We wanted to show this is also a living and vital collection," she said.

Officials started discussing ways to mark the library's centennial about two years ago, but faced a daunting challenge in selecting items for the museum exhibit. The Bancroft is the UC Berkeley's largest library, with more than 60 million objects included in its holdings. Bancroft is one of the most heavily used special research libraries in the nation.

"The Bancroft Library at 100: A Celebration 1906-2006" runs through Dec. 3 at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2626 Bancroft Way. Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. Admission: $8 general; $5 seniors and students; free for children under 12 and UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff. Information: (510) 642-1224, bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Curators drew up lists of books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, paintings, objects and rarities for potential inclusion in the exhibit. The list was cut and cut again, according to Salazar and an article written for the Friends of the Bancroft Library newsletter, the Bancroftiana.

The resultant exhibit is a cornucopia of history from California and the world.

They've got the knuckle-sized Wimmer Nugget, found along Sutter's Mill in 1848, and the diary of Donner Party survivor Patrick Breen, but also some letters of Samuel Clemens, as well as the first photo of the writer best known as Mark Twain, shown school-boy prim in a printers' outfit.

They've got fragile daguerreotypes of miners and fur trappers; hand-drawn land grant maps drawn by early Californios; Dorothea Lange photos documenting the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; manuscripts from the Mexican Inquisition; rare books such as a first edition of William Shakespeare's "Comedies, Histories & Tragedies" — considered among the most important first editions in all of English literature.

The exhibit also goes beyond tomes and photos and showcases rare paintings and hand-drawn maps and other artifacts of history.

"I think most visitors will be surprised by the variety of materials we have in the Bancroft Library," Salazar said in an e-mail. "... But also, I think they will have learned about the variety and richness of documentary evidence, that manuscripts, photographs, paintings, and ephemera, along with books, all tell rich stories about the history of the events they are reflecting."

"The Bancroft Library at 100: A Celebration 1906-2006" runs through Dec. 3 at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2626 Bancroft Way. Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. Admission: $8 general; $5 seniors and students; free for children under 12 and UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff. Information: (510) 642-1224, bampfa.berkeley.edu.