Boston Public Library
About the Rare Books Department
Rare Books Department
3rd Floor, McKim Building, Central Library
617-859-2225



Our Collection
In the field of printed books, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department has outstanding collections of Elizabethan and Restoration literature including the First, Second, and Fourth Folios of Shakespeare in the Barton Collection; Spanish Literature of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in George Ticknor's library; early astronomy, mathematics, and navigation in the Bowditch collection; early American printing from the libraries of John A. Lewis and Rev. Thomas Prince (including the Bay Psalm Book); the West Indies, especially Haiti, from the library formed by Benjamin Hunt; and the Defoe and Defoeniana Collection assembled by W.P. Trent; the liturgy of the Church of England and its sources, collected and endowed by Josiah H. Benton; the library of President John Adams; and the Robert A. Feer Collection of World's Fairs of North America.

In addition, the Department posseses widely representative examples of the graphic arts. These examples range from Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts to fine modern printing, illustrations, and binding.

Certain special collections administered by the Department include material on the Brownings, the Civil War, the Franciscan Order, women's rights, history of the theatre, 19th century German literature, and rare autographs brought together in the Richard and Virginia Ehrlich Collection and the Mellen Chamberlain Collection.

The library offers particular strength in Colonial and Revolutionary manuscripts and in the correspondence of New England Abolitionists. Included in its holdings are British and European manuscripts, both literary and political.

Among the 20th century collections are the papers, radio shows, and memorabilia of comedian Fred Allen; the Sacco-Vanzetti papers assembled by Aldino Felicani, treasurer of the Defense Committee for the accused men; and the Beaulieu papers related to "survivance" of the Franco-American.

Listing of resources
Only a small percentage of the Department's collection is available in the MBLN catalog. In order to access all of the holdings, researchers must check the card catalog in the Rare Books Reading Room and the microfiche catalog located throughout the Central Library.

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department has recorded certain of its manuscript and book collections in published catalogs and bibliographies. Among them are catalogs of the Prince, Adams, Barton, Ticknor, and Brown dramatic collections, as well as the followings listings of smaller or partial collections: American Literary Manuscripts, A Checklist of American Political Manuscripts, 1774-1940; Bibliotheca Barbadiensis; A Checklist of the Robert Feer Collection of World Fairs of North America.

Also available to the scholar in the Rare Books Department are records giving the the provenance of Department holdings and, for the enumerative bibliographer, partial records listing early printed books and manuscripts in the Library both by year and by place of publication.

The Library's impressive holdings of manuscripts are described in P.M. Hamers' Guide to Archives and Manuscripts in the United States (New Haven, 1961); The Modern Language Association's American Literary Manuscripts (2nd edition, 1977); De Ricci's Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States (New York, 1935-40) and Supplement (1962).

An effort has been made to record the library's holding in certain standard bibliographical works such as: Library of Congress's Union Catalog of Manuscripts; Pollard and Redgrave's Short Title Catalogue (for English books through 1640); D.G. Wing's continuation listing English books 1641-1700; Evan's American Bibliography; and F.R. Goff's Incunabula in American Libraries.