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June 25, 2018

USM receives $100M gift — largest in its history — from Osher family

Courtesy / University of Southern Maine Glenn Cummings, president of the University of Southern Maine, is joined by Dr. Harold Osher, in announcing on Friday the Osher family's additional gift of a private map collection with a monetary value of $100 million, as well as a new endowment to support the new USM-Osher Map Library Foundation.

The University of Southern Maine announced Friday that it received a private map collection from Dr. Harold Osher with a monetary value of $100 million as well as a new endowment to provide ongoing support for an expanded permanent map collection at USM.

It’s the largest gift in USM’s history and the largest ever to the University of Maine System, according to a USM news release announcing the gift, described as “a transformative partnership to support the one-of-a-kind Osher Map Library at USM and maintain it as a dynamic and innovative educational resource.”

The endowment will be combined with funds currently held by the USM Foundation on behalf of Harold and Peggy Osher to support the new USM-Osher Map Library Foundation.

"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.”

What's in the collection?

Courtesy / University of Southern Maine
“Leo Belgicus” (Lion of the Netherlands), a circa 1617 map of Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The collection includes:

  • The 1475 map of the Holy Land, including illustrated Biblical scenes, which is regarded as the first modern printed map
  • The majestic and patriotically-inspired “Leo Belgicus” (Lion of the Netherlands), a circa 1617 map of the area that now includes the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
  • John Mitchell’s “Map of the British Colonies in America” from 1755, often called “the most important map in American history,” featuring the negotiated boundaries from the British defeat of the French.
  • A 1866 printed version of J.H. Colton’s 1853 map of Maine, which is also the very first map that Harold and Peggy Osher purchased.

“They could take these maps, and they be anywhere in the world,” Cummings said. “The Smithsonian would welcome them. Private collections would welcome them. Places in London and Berlin would welcome them. Dr. Osher sees the University of Southern Maine and Portland, Maine, as a place he loves and commits to our future. That is humbling. It’s a little intimidating, and it is an incredible statement of faith in our future, the people we have here and the direction we’re heading. Why he believes in us matters to me a lot.”

World-class map library and its mission

In 1989, Harold and Peggy Osher donated their initial collection of world-class historic maps, charts and documents to USM. In 1994, the university opened the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education and in October 2009, its new, expanded facilities opened at the corner of Bedford Street and Forest Avenue on USM’s Portland campus.

Dr. Osher added to this collection with additional purchases each year. The Osher Collection joins with 59 other collections of maps, globes and other cartographic materials that have been donated to the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education.

Scholars regularly make use of the Osher Map Library, which last week hosted the 2018 Symposium of the International Society for the History of the Map.

“The Osher Map Library is considered one of the nation’s premier rare map libraries,” said David Rumsey, a renowned map collector and founder of Stanford University’s David Rumsey Map Center,

Matthew Edney, USM’s Osher Professor in the History of Cartography, agreed.

“It is such an amazing joy to work with their collection and to handle stuff that you know is pretty close to what it was like 200 years ago or 400 years ago,” Edney said.

A collector's passion

To Harold Osher, maps inform many disciplines.

“I started collecting maps because I love them,” he said. “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 Osher collection joined the collection of the late Lawrence M.C. and Eleanor Houston Smith, and along with gifts from other individual collectors, the library has grown to encompass 60 separate collections, including exceptionally rare globes and more than 450,000 maps and historic artifacts.

The Osher Map Library is a rare map library with an even rarer mission: To share its collection with K-12 students and the general public, as well as college students and scholars. More than 3,000 school children, from kindergarten through high school, have visited the collection this year, according to USM.

In 1994, at dedication ceremonies for the new library, the Oshers noted, “We always intended that our collection should be shared, not hidden.”

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