PORTLAND (AP) – The book collection at the University of Southern Maine’s library is about to get bigger and older.

A longtime book cataloger from Standish is giving USM his collection of more than 1,200 rare books, some of which date back more than 400 years.

The university announced Friday that the collection is being donated by Albert Howard, a cataloger at USM libraries for 34 years.

School officials said the collection includes approximately 200 children’s books, including what is billed as the first illustrated children’s book, a study of ships published in 1553 by the Charles Stephanus family publishers in Paris.

It also includes popular poetry collections from the 16th century, and Henry VIII’s letter to Martin Luther (1527).

Under the arrangement between Howard and the school, 700 to 800 titles published after 1900 will be transferred immediately to the school.

Those books are notable for their beauty and craftsmanship, and feature engraved and woodcut illustrations, fine paper and bindings, USM officials said.

The balance of the collection will be bequeathed to the university upon Howard’s death.

Howard said he wants the collection to be used for the study of the printed book as a social and cultural instrument in Europe and the Americas since 1500.

“I am going to be completely surprised who does use it and who makes the best use of it,” Howard said. “I think this is a surprise often to curators of some of the great collections. I will be delighted and I hope I’m still around to see people use it.”

USM officials said the collection will be valuable to many students, particularly those working on graduate degrees.

“Albert’s collection of fine press books and titles published before 1900 could be used by someone pursuing a degree in the Women Studies Program,” said Susie Bock, USM’s head of special collections. “I can also see students in the honors program using the collection, and I suspect faculty in political science, philosophy, history, and foreign languages departments will find texts that they could use in lectures or assignments.”

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