Rare Books & Special Collections

The mission of the Watkinson Library Rare Books, Prints, and Maps unit is to collect, preserve, and make available to the public rare and unique materials of enduring historical, cultural, and research interest.

Collection Overview

The Watkinson Library is home to 200,000 printed and manuscript volumes ranging in date from the 11th century to the present. In addition it contains collections of American, British, and Russian posters dating from the 19th and early 20th century, printed broadsheets and other ephemera, and manuscript and print maps.

Collection Strengths

  • Medieval European manuscript codices from the 11th-15th centuries, including illuminated books of hours
  • More than 200 Incunabula—books produced during the “cradle” period of European printing (ca. 1450–1500)—many with original bindings
  • Representative holdings of British and European imprints from the 16th through the 19th centuries
  • Extensive holdings in Americana from colonial America through the 19th century, including John Eliot’s Indian Grammar (1666) and Indian Bible (1685) and close to 1700 American almanacs printed before 1900
  • Major holdings in ornithology, including a complete set of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America (formerly owned by its engraver, Robert Havell) and more than 6000 volumes of ornithology donated by Ostrom Enders
  • The working library of architect J. Cleveland Cady (1837-1919), encompassing 400 volumes and 2000 photographs, and complemented by additional holdings in the history of architecture from Vetruvius, Serlio, Palladio, and Piranesi
  • Fine, small-press, and artists’ books