Odds and quads

August 26, 2010

This silver plaque appears above the urinals in the men's lavatory at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt Library.

Businessman and philanthropist Michael Zinman, who claims to lack a "stop gene" to deter him from putting even his most whimsical ideas into practice, was long keen to sponsor a urinal.

Though several institutions turned him down, the library decided to take him up on his offer in 2002.

He had already donated the world's largest collection of "sample books" to the library - covering subjects ranging from etiquette to animal husbandry - that were used by publishers' travelling salesmen in the 19th century to drum up subscriptions for the titles on their lists.

When the renovated lavatory was opened in 2003, there was a brief period when both women and men were allowed in to see it.

The event was also commemorated by a 24-page booklet of poems written for the occasion.

Another plaque in the Van Pelt Library marks the spot where ill-fated president Gerald Ford once got stuck in a lift.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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