An Enduring Legacy: Jay T. Last
Mandeville advertising poster
Advertising poster for Mandeville & King Superior Flower Seeds, lithographed by Karle Lithographic Co. (Rochester, N.Y.), ca. 1895. Jay T. Last Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Toucan Brand citrus crate label
Toucan Brand citrus crate label for the H.E. Huntington Packing Association, San Marino, California, 1919. Gift of Jay T. Last. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Over the years, Last’s fascination with commercial lithography and its history grew—along with his holdings. When he passed away in November 2021, he left behind some 200,000 posters, advertisements, maps, sheet music labels, and other lithographed items, most of which were printed in the 19th century. His collection had been shifting over to The Huntington—box by box—for a number of years before his death.
The collection is especially significant to those researching the history of advertising, printing, and technology. Taken together, it documents evolutions in consumer culture and societal relations, in addition to American lithography as an art form.
Last’s connection with The Huntington began when he was conducting research for The Color Explosion, his award-winning book about American lithography. After visiting more than 40 libraries and museums, in 2005 he chose The Huntington to be the institutional home for his collection. When asked about his decision, Last said, “I knew that The Huntington would be in existence forever. That was a key point in my mind. And there already was strong scholarly demand for similar material in The Huntington’s holdings. My collection strengthens the existing material, which will serve to attract even more scholars in the future.”
His involvement with The Huntington went beyond philanthropy, as he took a hands-on approach to working with curators, who continually expanded and cataloged the collection he had donated. He may have been drawn to objects from the past, but he wanted to ensure their availability to generations of the future.
“Jay recognized that 200,000 pieces of lithography—let alone our collection of more than 11 million objects—isn’t a library; it’s a lot of stuff,” Brooke Gordon says. “He absolutely understood that the items have to be organized and described. They must be stored and taken care of. And people need to be able to find and make use of them—either in person or digitally.”
In addition to providing the financial resources to make his collection accessible to scholars and the public, Last made significant philanthropic investments to keep the institution technologically up to date. This includes the systematic digitization of the Library’s holdings to widen their availability, Brooke Gordon says. “It’s a multiyear endeavor, and Jay was the first person to step up with support.”
Last’s contributions have included underwriting the salaries of a five-member Digital Library team, among other digital initiatives. The results have been a continually growing body of holdings that can be viewed by researchers worldwide.
He also gave funds for professional development to keep the Library’s staff at the forefront of the field, especially in an ever-changing digital age.
Last’s devotion to libraries began in childhood. He once told an interviewer about his love for the library in the small Pennsylvania town where he grew up. By the time he left for college, he figured that he had read almost all the books on its shelves. Although Last pursued a scientific education—he earned his bachelor’s degree in optics from the University of Rochester and his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—his love for humanities continued. “I think that the understanding of the world you gain through the humanities enables you to put science into a broader context,” he said in a 2016 interview with the University of Rochester. “My advice to somebody going into a scientific trade today would be: Don’t underestimate how the humanities can make your life a lot richer.”
For more information about how you can create a lasting Huntington legacy, please contact Cris Lutz, assistant vice president of gift planning, at 626-405-2212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.