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Rare Books Research at NYPL: Collections

Rare Book Division and George Arents Collection

The printed collections of The New York Public Library could be said to begin in the Rare Book Division, with nearly 800 pieces of incunabula (books printed from 1450-1500). Works printed by Peter Schöffer, William CaxtonGünter Zainer, and Anton Koberger are represented, as are block books, indulgences, and even several examples of Asian printing, which predate the incunabular period.

The Rare Book Division is rich in Americana, especially books printed in the Americas before 1801. The holdings of European Americana are mostly from the earlier period, up to 1600. The collection of broadsides—of which there are approximately 20,000—contains many items of American interest. The division also holds American newspapers printed before 1865.

One of the most important collecting areas of the division is voyages and travels; among the division's holdings in this area are editions of De Bry, HakluytHulsius, John Smith, James Cook, Lewis and Clark, George Catlin, and Wied-Neuwied. Additionally, there are many early atlases, beginning with the 1478 Cosmographia, and including several by Ortelius, Georg Braun, and Münster.

Bibles were an important part of the Lenox Library; when that institution became one of the founding collections of The New York Public Library, the Rare Book Division became home to many of the Lenox's rare Bibles.

Among literary works, the division possesses the first four Folio editions of the works of William Shakespeare, all pre-1700 editions of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and the complete works of Voltaire in their original editions. The Rosin Collection of German Literature is filled with first editions of Goethe, Schiller, Heine, and their contemporaries. The Oscar Lion Collection of Walt Whitman contains not only works by and about Whitman, but also Whitman's personal copies of the first (1855) and third (1860) editions of Leaves of Grass. Other collections worth noting would be the O'Brien Collection of Dime Novels, Richard Watson Gilder's collection of 19th-century poetry, the Darton and Schatzki Collections of children's books, and the Stuart Collection.

Incunabula: the 1460 Catholicon; Schedel's Liber Chronicarum; De Bury's Philobiblon; Breydenbach's Peregrinatio in Terram sanctam; Holle's 1482 printing of Ptolemy's Cosmographia, and a number of editions of Sacro Bosco's Sphaera mundi

Bibles: Gutenberg Bible, the Lenox copy of which was the first to come to America; Luther's translation of the Bible; Tyndale's translation of the Bible; the first Bible printed in a native American language; the first Bible printed in the United States; a Bible that belonged to the last surviving mutineer of the H.M.S. Bounty.

Finally, some mention must be made of some of the division's notable rarities. These items include the only remaining copy of the first printing of Columbus's letter to Luis de Santángel (Barcelona, 1493), the first book printed in North America (1543), the first book printed in English in America (1640), the earliest surviving globe from the period immediately following the discovery of the Americas (ca. 1510), and the first printings of the Declaration of Independence.

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

Brooke Russel Astor Reading Room

Third Floor , Room 328

New York, NY 10018

(212) 642-0110

 

Day Hours
Sunday Closed
Monday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Tuesday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Wednesday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Thursday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Friday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Saturday 10 AM–5:45 PM

Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature

The Berg Collection contains some 35,000 printed volumes, pamphlets, and broadsides, and 2,000 linear feet of literary archives and manuscripts, representing the work of more than 400 authors. Printed books in English date from William Caxton’s 1480 edition of the Chronicles of England to the present day, and the manuscripts encompass an almost equally lengthy period. Among the literary movements and circles that can be studied in depth at the Berg, using both manuscript and printed materials, are the Age of Johnson; Romanticism; American Transcendentalism; the various facets of Victorian literature, especially the Medieval Revival and Aestheticism; the Irish Literary Renaissance; Georgian poetry; British poets of the First World War; early and late Modernism; Bloomsbury; the Black Mountain poets; the Beats; the confessional poets; the New York School; and the counter-cultural poets of New York’s Lower East Side (1960 to 1980).

Of printed books, the Berg contains comprehensive collections of first and rare editions of nearly all of the canonical 19th- and early 20th-century authors, and extensive holdings from earlier centuries. A short list of English highlights includes the first edition of Thomas More's Utopia, in Latin (1516); the first edition of Spenser's Colin Clouts Comes Home Again (1595); the first edition, first issue, of The Faerie Queene (1590–1596); Chapman's Homer (1616); the first four Shakespeare folios and Shakespeare's 1640 Poems; a first edition of Milton's Comus (1637), and Alexander Pope's signed copy of Milton's first edition of the Poems (1645), containing Pope's autograph transcription of Milton's Latin verse; five books written and printed by William Blake (four of which he hand-colored), including the Songs of Innocence (1789); a 1713 edition of Tasso's Orlando Furioso, whose final, unprinted page contains Samuel Taylor Coleridge's hand-written comments, in Italian, on the work; the first edition, first issue, of Sterne's A Sentimental Journey (1768); and a perfect copy, gatherings unopened, of the Kilmarnock 1786 edition of Burns's Poems; the copy of Endymion (1818) inscribed by Keats to Leigh Hunt; the first edition, first issue, of Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads (Bristol, 1798), bound in muslin by Robert Southey, and the first edition, third issue, of the same work (London, 1798), with emendations in Coleridge's hand; six of Dickens's novels as they were first issued—in parts, as well as in their first separate editions (also present are all of Thackeray's and George Eliot's first separate editions, as well as several of their books-in-parts); the copy of Vanity Fair (1848) inscribed by Thackeray to Dickens, as well as the copy extra-illustrated with five of his watercolor sketches and inscribed to George Cruikshank; George Meredith's Poems (1851), with the text emended in his hand and interleaved with his autograph poems and notes; Alice Liddell's copy of the withdrawn first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1866); Rudyard Kipling's The Smith Administration (Allahabad, 1891), one of six known copies, with a letter from Kipling and two from his wife laid-in; the  copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) inscribed by Oscar Wilde to Major James Ormond Nelson, Reading's Governor; and Auden's Poems (1928), published by Stephen Spender at Oxford.

An equally abbreviated list of American printed highlights includes James Fenimore Cooper's copy of his novel The Spy (1827), interleaved with his manuscript emendations; two copies of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane (1827), one of which is bound in its original wrappers; five copies of Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), inscribed by the author to, respectively, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, Ellery Channing, James Anthony Froude, and Nathaniel Hawthorne; nine copies of the first edition of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) and eleven copies of the first edition of The House of the Seven Gables (1851); Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), inscribed with affectionate sentiments to his brother-in-law, and The Piazza Tales (1856), inscribed by Melville with a presentation statement from his mother to his uncle, and later signed by his brother and annotated by Melville's wife; Walt Whitman's Franklin Evans, or, The Inebriate, in one of four surviving copies of its first publication in the November 1842 supplement to the journal The New World; Robert Frost's A Boy's Will (1913), in the first binding of bronze cloth; T. S. Eliot's Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), and the first edition of The Waste Land (Hogarth Press, 1920); William Faulkner's The Marble Faun (1924); and Eugene O'Neill's signed copy ofThe Emperor Jones (1928).

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

Third Floor , Room 320

New York, NY 10018

(212) 930-0803

 

 

Day Hours
Sunday Closed
Monday Closed
Tuesday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Wednesday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Thursday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Friday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Saturday 10 AM–5:45 PM

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

The Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division collects, preserves, and makes available for research purposes rare, unique, and primary materials that document the history and culture of people of African descent throughout the world, with a concentration on the Americas and the Caribbean.

Subject and genre strength for the rare book collection include slavery and anti-slavery in the United States; fiction; travel narratives in the Americas and Africa; history of Blacks in the United States and Caribbean; biography, history, literature, religion, and poetry. The rare book holdings date from the late sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, although the bulk of the titles are pre-1865 imprints. Languages represented in the collection are primarily English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Latin. In addition, the collection has one of the finest representative collections of works by authors of the Harlem Renaissance, nineteenth century Black women authors, and monographs published during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries by and about Black people. The collection contains first, early, and variant editions by Black authors up to 1901 and prize-winning titles by Black authors up to the present.

The Center contains a signed, first edition of a book of poems by Phillis Wheatley, as well as twenty three copies of The Traveler's Green Book, which as gained increased interest due to the Oscar-winning film Green Book. 

 

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard (135th St and Malcolm X Blvd)
Second Floor
New York, NY 10037
(212) 491-2224
 

 

Day Hours
Sunday Closed
Monday Closed
Tuesday 12 PM–5:45 PM
Wednesday 12 PM–5:45 PM
Thursday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Friday 10 AM–5:45 PM
Saturday 10 AM–5:45 PM