A life-long Philadelphian, Robert Dechert achieved prominence both locally and nationally as a lawyer and public servant. He came to bibliophily late in his life and never devoted himself exclusively to the pursuit of rare books. Yet what Dechert lacked in time, he made up for in energy. When he gave his collection of Americana to the University of Pennsylvania in 1962, it was one of the most important then in private hands.
The Robert Dechert Collection contains printed materials relating the experiences of French explorers of North and South America, as well as documenting North American Jesuit relations. Works that illustrate Native American life and costumes are another emphasis of the Dechert Collection. Early examples include several volumes of Theodor De Bry's India occidentalis (Frankfurt 1591); later examples include M'Kenney and Hall. Later North American travel literature is also strongly represented. Early narratives of the Lewis and Clark expedition and such nineteenth-century illustrated books as those by Maximilian Wied von Neuwied and Karl Bodmer complement some of the great rarities of later western overland travel, including works by Zenas Leonard and John Hale.
The Robert Dechert Americana Book Fund supports the maintenance of the Robert Dechert Collection, given to the Penn Library "in appreciation of what the University has meant to me over the years, and of what it can do for generations of the future by inspiring in them an interest in the days of Frenchmen, Indians and Mountain Men and others involved with the frontier of America."
Materials purchased through this fund include:
- Lettres américaines : dans lesquelles on examine l'origine, l'etat civil, politique, militaire & religieux, les arts, l'industrie, les sciences, les moeurs, les usages des anciens habitans de l'Amérique; les grandes epoques de la nature, l'ancienne communication des deux hémisphères, & la dernière révolution qui a fait disparoître l'Atlantide, pour servir de suite aux Mémoires de D. Ulloa / par M. le comte J.R. Carli ... ; avec des observations & additions du traducteur.
- Journal of two visits made to some nations of Indians on the west side of the river Ohio, in the years 1772 and 1773
- Great West : containing narratives of the most important and interesting events in Western history, remarkable individual adventures, sketches of frontier life, descriptions of natural curiosities : to which is appended historical and descriptive sketches
- Relation abrégée d'un voyage fait dans l'intérieur de l'Amérique méridionale : depuis la côte de la mer du Sud, jusqu'aux côtes du Brésil & de la Guyane, en descendant la riviere des Amazones
- See additional titles purchased through this fund