"I love history," declared David Scheffenacker Jr., telling the story of how, at age 25, he walked into a rare books store in downtown Baltimore.
"The minute I walked in, I was hooked," he said. "All I wanted to do was buy books."
His late grandfather, Thomas Butler, former chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and namesake of Butler Cabin, where the trophy is awarded for The Masters, left him three books written and inscribed by a close friend, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, to be holding a book that Eisenhower had actually held himself and written in to my grandfather," Scheffenacker said.
Scheffenacker, now 54, stood Feb. 21 in the library of his house in Roland Park, surrounded by books. A fire roared in the fireplace. A globe sat on the floor. No less than seven bookcases stretched from the floor to the ceiling, filled not just with books written by famous explorers like Lewis and Clark, La Perouse and Captain Bligh, but books so old and rare that some of them contained their original hand-drawn maps.
A painting in the room depicted a Victorian-era gentleman examining books in a store, where a sign said, "Choice novels."
A magnifying glass and an open encyclopedia sat on a desk. Tables and comfortable chairs abounded.
"This is the library," Scheffenacker said. "You need a lot of chairs in a library, and a lot of tables."
There are books throughout the house, Scheffenacker said, about 4,000 books and 5,500 volumes in all, dating as far back as 1490. He would later clarify that the library room is not the only library in the house.
"The dining room is a library," he said. ""The living room is a library. The library is a library and the family room is a library as well."
One room is devoted to Americana and the Civil War.
But Scheffenacker's first love is books about and by explorers, which account for about 60 percent of his collection.
"This was actually never bound," he said, showing the uncut edges of a book that he said the 18th century French explorer Jean-Francoise de Galaup, comte de La Perouse sent from Singapore before he disappeared at sea, presumably eaten by cannibals.
On this morning, Scheffenacker had a slew of business to attend to as president of the real estate development company Preston Scheffenacker Properties, which is developing a regional Coca-Cola distribution center in Anne Arundel County, among other projects. He was on the phone for several minutes, talking business, before the interview.
Plus, he had the flu. But he warmed up as he showed a staggering collection of rare books, maps and documents, such as a Revolutionary War letter from an ally, the Marquis de Lafayette, to Gov. Thomas Lee of Maryland, asking for food and reinforcements.
Scheffenacker wouldn't reveal how much his collection is worth.
"This is really quiet collecting," he said. "I don't go around saying, 'Look at me.'"
But he added, "I like to say I work for books. I try to make money so I can buy books."
Scheffenacker gives talks and shows some of his books about three times a year to book clubs and students. A family foundation, the Josephine B. Scheffenacker Education Trust, named for his late mother, co-sponsors and presents a wide range of programs, including the Howard County Library System's annual Battle of the Books, a competition to get fifth graders excited about reading. This year's Battle of the Books is April 4.
According to Victoria Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Howard County Library System, Scheffenacker came to the Miller branch library in Howard County in March 2013 and displayed Sir Walter Raleigh's "The History of the World" (1614), Sir Richard Hawkins' "Voyage Into the South Sea" (1622), Captain William Bligh's "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1792), Lewis & Clark's "Expedition of Lewis & Clark" (1817), and Ernest Henry Shackleton's "The Heart of the Antarctic" (1911).
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Scheffenacker pulled books off shelves such as Richard Hakluyt's 1589 "Hakluyt's Voyages," which he said contains one of the first maps of the New World as it was known at the time; a multi-volume set of New World explorations by Theodor De Bry — purchased at auction from a famous collector, whom he would not name; and "Captain Bligh's Voyages," inscribed by Bligh.
"This is as rare as it gets," Scheffenacker said, showing the De Bry tomes. "You can see all the bookplates from previous owners."
He also owns President Garfield's copy of a two-volume journal by Lewis and Clark, which includes a map.
"It's so fragile, like rice paper," he said. "A lot of people pulled the maps out to use it to go west."
From a drawer under the desk, he pulled out what he called an elephant-sized atlas and showed a 240-year-old map of La Perouse's voyage to the south Pacific in 1777.
"They really took mapping seriously," he said. "It was sort of like exploring a new planet."