Keeper of an Unlikely Trove, Gutenberg to Warhol





It is difficult to say which is more surprising: that the Newark Public Library owns prints by Picasso and Rauschenberg, a page of the Gutenberg Bible and a 1493 handwritten tome known as the Nuremberg Chronicles, or that William J. Dane, a dapper, refreshingly irreverent art scholar from New Hampshire, has been tending to this astounding collection for six decades.

Mr. Dane does not like to talk about his age, but it is worth noting that he was old enough to join the Army during World War II and fight through France, Belgium and Germany.

“I don’t want this to be a story about some old dumbbell who stayed at the same job for 60 years,” he said last Friday, adjusting his tie, which was adorned with burgundy-and-green bunches of grapes.

In a well-timed distraction, Mr. Dane pulled up his sleeve to reveal a rhinestone-slathered watch that would have put Liberace to shame. “You like my bling,” he said deadpan. “It’s an hour fast because I haven’t figured out how to change the hands.”

Mr. Dane, who carries the regal title “keeper of the prints,” has been cradling and nourishing one of the country’s most impressive collections of prints, posters and rare books since he left the scorched battlefields of Europe and ambled into the library’s main branch on Washington Street, whereupon he was immediately hired as a clerk.


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