On the day Harper embarked from Southampton, Chandler wrote an encouraging letter which would reach Harper in Chicago. He said that while the treasures of the Calvary stock are apt to be overestimated by librarians and collectors, the "substantial value of the collection lies in its astonishing richness in standard editions of all degrees of rarity." In a burst of enthusiasm he wrote that "here is a glorious opportunity for Chicago, the likes of which is extremely unlikely to occur again in our times, if ever.... To get them all at once would be a brilliant thing for the new University, and would give great eclat to its library, as soon as the value of the acquisition becomes known." As further encouragement for Harper he added that the price without the duplicates was regarded as "very low."
While still in New York, Harper made his first move to secure the purchase price of $45,000 (or 180,000 marks) for the Calvary books. It would have been tactless to approach John D. Rockefeller but why not his younger brother William? William was wealthy in his own right, although not known for his philanthropic impulses. The plan was to approach William with the help of President Faunce of Brown, an old friend and ally of Harper. A request for a meeting received an immediate rebuff Rockefeller would be happy to see Faunce and Harper if the call was to be of a "social nature," but if it were for a "business chat," Rockefeller asked to be excused.
But Harper showed no reticence in the letter he sent to William Rockefeller. He gave a recent history of the collection and the opinions of the various experts he had enlisted, closing his remarks with "a few important facts:"
- The purchase of the library would be one of the greatest book-deals ever made, and would produce a profound impression in the literary world.
- Its possession would place 200,000 valuable books in the West which cannot be found there now, many of which cannot be found anywhere in America.
- Its possession would give the University of Chicago, at once, a library which would stand favorable comparison with the best in the land.
- Another such opportunity will not come in a century.
- It would take 20 years, and the cost of this collection in salaries alone, to obtain it.
- The price is undoubtedly a small one, and the terms of payment easy. 10,000 volumes might be selected worth the amount named.
- Its possession will compel at once the erection of a building to house it.
- Since leaving Berlin, I have been informed that a Mr. Loeb (of a Jewish banking house) has offered the sum named to be paid November 2 if we cannot make the necessary arrangements.
- I am to make an effort the coming winter to raise $500,000 to $1,000,000 in Chicago for buildings. This is all we can reasonably hope to do in Chicago, and it is felt that nothing should be allowed to interfere with this effort.
- The collection, one feels, ought to be the purchase of one man, bear his name, or such a name as he may designate.
- In addition to the $45,000 for purchase, the sum of $5,000 will be needed for completing to date certain portions of the library; $5,000 to $10,000 for binding and $5,000 for packing and shipping.
Harper's plea fell flat. Rockefeller's telegram simply stated: "It will be impossible for me to do anything as indicated in your letter of the 19th."
Undismayed, Harper headed for Chicago while Gates wrote John D. Rockefeller about "Dr. Harper's great library scheme, and the apparent promise. Dr. Harper is making manful attempts to carry it without appealing to you, and I am inclined to think he will succeed."
On October 27, five days after returning to Chicago, Harper placed the whole matter before the Committee on Organization and Faculties of the Board of Trustees. The Committee recommended "that the Board purchase the Berlin Collection in accordance with the terms proposed by Dr. Simon, in case the purchase money, $45,000, is subscribed and that Koehler's Antiquarium be made the agent of the University in making the purchase, and packing and shipping the books." This text of the resolution contained the first use of the name "The Berlin Collection" for the Calvary books.
The resolution was accepted by the Board of Trustees on the same day that they appointed Harper "to conduct further negotiations and conclude the business." To Harper's jubilation, the money was quickly secured from members of the Board. Always hoping for Gates' approbation, Harper immediately wired him in New York: "Rust, Ryerson, Hutchinson, Kohlsaat, and others subscribe the necessary money, Hallelujah." Goodspeed waited a day to give Gates further details. "I have only a moment to write. Rust began the subscription with $12,000. Kohlsaat followed with $6,000, and Ryerson and Hutchinson assured the rest. Walker said, 'No. I want to secure a scientific building.' And if we can get the Academy of Science Collection, he is pledged to see a $50,000 wing of the Collections building go up. He will give or get the money."
Beyond Goodspeed's account of the event there is only one piece of unsubstantiated evidence concerning the subscriptions for the library, and that is an undated document titled "Calvary Library" which is divided into paid and unpaid subscriptions. The paid subscriptions were listed as Martin A. Ryerson, $11,250 H.H. Kohlsaat, $5,988.28; C.L. Hutchinson, $1,000; Byron L. Smith, $1,000; A.A. Sprague, $1,000; C.H. McCormick, $1,000; and C.R. Crane, $1,000 for a total of $22,238.28. The unpaid subscriptions were listed as H.A. Rust, $11,250; W.R. Harper, $5,625; and C.J. Singer, $1,000 for a total of $17,875. All the above names with the exception of Harper's are listed as donors on the collection bookplate and elsewhere.
The next day, Goodspeed described the excitement at the Board meeting including Edward Ayer's declaration to give his Indian collection to the University. "All this," he explained to Gates, "has come directly out of the library effort. I feel even more satisfaction in this because it is the consummation of the movement you and I inaugurated two years ago. As Harper says, the work was really all done. It only needed the library incident to bring everything to a point and a conclusion." Harper had correctly perceived the effect of the Calvary books. The purchase and its consequence did not fail to move Frederick Gates, who wrote to Goodspeed: "I have written Mr. Rockefeller the details, and added some hopeful words about the entire situation. Things are moving, and now the momentum gained will make the triumphs easier... I am serenely happy over the whole situation...."
With the money pledged, Harper immediately wired Simon that his offer was accepted and that Hugo Bloch was to act as the University's agent. The deadline had been met. There was also a full measure of publicity.
The day after the Board's action The New York Times had it as a first-page story under the headline, "A Valuable Library Bought, the Treasures Secured by the University of Chicago." Calling it "one of the largest book deals ever consummated in America," the story contained the long run of figures covering the collection's contents. "The price paid for the library is not made public. The catalogue price is between $600,000 and $700,000, and the estimated bookseller's price $300,000. Those who profess to know say that there are 15,000 volumes in the library worth the purchase price." This information would have come directly from Harper. The news quickly spread across the country.
Two days after the Board's vote, Harper had a letter from William G. Gale, whom he was attempting to lure from Cornell as professor of Latin:
The newspaper announced the purchase of the library mentioned in your letter. You have accomplished the incredible. And the manner of the doing of it is a most hopeful omen; for you have touched the heart and opened the purse of Chicago.
From another aspect the purchase is most happy. The library has been collected from a standpoint wholly nonutilitarian. You have interested businessmen in precisely those things which the atmosphere of Chicago would seem unfavorable to. Whoever may go to you in Latin, I am glad your start has been precisely of this kind.
Now you will need a library building. You, and your architect, should see ours at Cornell, just completed. It has some grave faults, architectural and otherwise. And yet it is the best building of its kind in the country and wonderfully cheering and inspiring. In itself alone, it is one of the strongest inducements to hold a professor here.
A dour view of the acquisition came from E. Nelson Blake, president of the Board of Trustees, who wrote from his home in Arlington, Massachusetts:
I saw the Associated Press account of the library purchase, also the "Inter Ocean" account of the library in Wednesday's paper. I am very sorry that some outsider could not have been induced to aid you to that extent on that exclusively, for all taken from such friends as those four, lessen the am't from them for buildings, which are so essential just now. I know and fully appreciate all that can be said in favor of the purchase, I know it was a chance of a life-time, but you can not have everything at once, and you must have the buildings. The great reason in favor of the purchase after all is the reputation it will give us everywhere, in connection with our other puffs, and the important lever of success may make you invincible in your soliciting for buildings, but the coming of the new library makes the library building almost a necessity.
Writing a few days later, Blake noted that the purchase had created a great stir on the Pacific coast, but he was still concerned that it might dry up sources by "causing people to think that we are sufficient for all our needs."
John D. Rockefeller congratulated Harper. In the happy glow of success, Harper wrote to Gates that "the sentiment of the city is thoroughly aroused by the library business. Everybody is pleased about it. The testimonies concerning the value of the library are coming in every day; e.g. Gunsaulus, who knew its contents perhaps better than I myself did, from men all over the West and South who know the collection. The editorial in the Boston Herald Monday morning sets us up at great rate. I think the moral effect of the library is worth very much more than the cost of it."