Humble beginnings inspired Milwaukee native, Otto A. Lempke, to admire Napoleon Bonaparte. As he became more prosperous through education and career, he avidly added Napoleonic literature to his personal library. While comprehensive, his collecting focus was on biographical accounts of Napoleon and the military campaigns. His untimely death at the beginning of the Great Depression necessitated the need for his heirs to sell his library so that his estate would remain solvent. The 4,000 volumes purchased by DePaul University in 1937 formed the basis of the Napoleon Collection.
Since that time, additional gifts have enhanced the collection. In 1984, the son of Hungarian-born Dr. Max Thorek donated 221 books and broadsides from his father’s collection which included extra-illustrated editions of Napoleon, the French Revolution and the Royal Family. In 1999, an estate gift from Milton Lewis, a 1977 graduate of DePaul’s College of Law, included ceramic figurines and hand-bound books with medallions and engravings of Napoleon embedded in the covers.
Most recently, Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, transferred the Napoleonic collection of Leslie H. Kuehner with its wealth of English language first editions and other novelty publications to DePaul’s Special Collections in 2010.