The University of Southern Maine has announced a gift of rare and historic maps valued at $100 million from Harold Osher and his late wife, Peggy, who died in May.
The largest gift in USM's history and the largest ever to the University of Maine System, which includes the collection and an endowment, will create the USM-Osher Map Library Foundation. The collection includes such rarities as a 1475 map of the Holy Land that includes illustrated Biblical scenes and is regarded as the first modern printed map; the "Leo Belgicus," a circa 1617 map of the Low Country region in northwestern Europe that today includes the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg; and John Mitchell's 1755 "Map of the British Colonies in America" featuring the negotiated boundaries from the British defeat of the French — a map often called the most important in American history.
A former director of cardiology at Maine Medical Center and a brother of the founder of the Bernard Osher Foundation, Harold Osher and his wife donated their first collection of historic maps, charts, and documents to USM in 1989. In 1994, the university opened the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, and the couple continued to add to the collection. Their latest gift will join fifty-nine other collections of maps, globes, and other cartographic materials at the library, housed since 2009 in an expanded facility and open not only to USM students and scholars but also to K-12 students and the public.
"I started collecting maps because I love them," said Osher. "These images involve all areas of human activity, not just geography, politics, or religion. Maps are ideal teaching tools and primary sources of information, often from ancient times. You can often learn more from studying maps than by reading entire books."
"The University of Southern Maine and the Osher family have enjoyed a longstanding, deep partnership in stewarding the growth and sustenance of this important and invaluable collection," said USM president Glenn Cummings. "Today, we are taking that partnership to a new level. Their gift will not only tremendously benefit our university, our communities, and scholars worldwide, but also serve as a lasting legacy of their extraordinary philanthropy and devotion to the people of Portland and the state of Maine."
(Photo credit: University of Southern Maine)