Boston Public Library
Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)
Rare Books Department

McKim Building, 3rd Floor
617.859.2225


Oldest objects in the Rare Book Department?
Five Cuneiforms (inscribed Babylonian clay tablets) dating from 2350 B.C.

The earliest bound manuscript book?
Book of sermons : biblical writings and thoughts, a hand-written lectionary that dates from 925 A.D. Published in France and written in Latin.

Oldest newspaper in the collection?
The Boston Newsletter. On the stands from April 22, 1704 to February 22, 1776. It was the first continuously published newspaper in the United States. Publick Occurrences Both forreign and Domestick was issued in Boston in 1690 by Benjamin Harris, but was suppressed after the first issue. TheRare Books Department has several copies of the original "Newsletters", and most issues are on microform.

Our earliest printed book in America?
The Whole book of Psalmes faithfully translated into English metre.Commonly called the Bay Psalm Book, it is the first book written and printed in colonial America, in 1640 in Cambridge, MA. The Department has two of the eleven existing copies.

Our oldest printed book?
A Latin Dictionary printed in Germany circa 1460. Johann Gutenburg is believed to have been the printer.

Our smallest book?
Rudyard Kippling's The Recessional. It is 1.1 cm. (about half an inch) high, and contains about ten (10) pages. Published at Spoke Plat, Arkansas.

The largest and most expensive printed set?
Birds of America, the Audubon's Double Elephant Folio. The set is made of 435 plates which were issued separately (it was up to the purchaser to bind them), and weighs sixty pounds.

What makes a book rare?
Tricky question! Here are some criteria that are used when considering the rarity of a book: Age, Scarcity, Aesthetic or financial worth, and Association with notable people or happenings.