Book Arts and Book History

The area of book arts and history of the book is a particular strength of the collection.  Special Collections has hundreds of artists’ books as well as a large collection of fine press work, including over 400 titles produced by the Limited Editions Club and around 400 miniature books.  The collection also has extensive materials related to typography and graphic design.  For the field of book history, the collection includes 15 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, 25 incunables in complete codices, 250 medieval manuscript leaves, and 100 incunable leaves.  Important printers and typographers from throughout the hand press period are well-represented in the collection.

Manuscript Highlights

Missa in honor Sct et Indiuidue Trinitatis (Trinity Sunday Proper), RARE BX2015.9 .T7 1400

Missa in honor Sct et Indiuidue Trinitatis, BX2015.9 .T7 1400

Special Collections maintains a small collection of manuscripts that date from antiquity to the present.  The collection is intended to demonstrate the physical characteristics of the book before printing, and it contains a wide variety of scripts and materials from various time periods.  From antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, the collection includes:

  • Eight cuneiform tablets from the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods
  • Around a dozen manuscripts in book form, ranging in date from ca. 1150 to ca. 1600
  • Over 200 leaves and fragments, including seventeenth century book collector John Bagford’s manuscript leaves and fragments, Fragmenta Manuscripta, dating from the eighth to the seventeenth century
  • A handful of leaves from the Koran, palm leaf manuscripts, and other examples of manuscripts from non-Western cultures

History of the Book and Printing

Illuminated initial of Biblia Latina Impressa Venetiis: per Franciscum de hailbrun, 1480. BS75 1480

Biblia Latina (Impressa Venetiis: per Franciscum de hailbrun, 1480), BS75 1480

The history of printing and the book arts is one of the primary interests of Special Collections. Highlights include:

  • A collection of two dozen incunabula including a splendid copy of Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum (1493)
  • Numerous sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century titles from important printers such as Aldus Manutius, the Elzevirs, the Plantin-Moretus family, Baskerville, Bodoni, and others
  • Books and ephemera produced by hundreds of private presses, from the Kelmscott Press to the current day
  • A growing collection of contemporary artists’s books, including works from the Janus Press, the Women’s Studio Workshop, and others

These materials provide an essential learning laboratory for students and faculty interested in the history and technologies of the book.  They also complement and provide a touchstone for a campus-wide interest in the history and future of media, communications, and disruptive technologies such as the Internet and the printing press.

How to Use the Collection

The collection is available to all users in the Special Collections Reading Room (room 401) during regular hours.  Materials do not circulate. Rare books may be used in the Special Collections Reading Room during service hours or by appointment.search-graphic

With a few exceptions, the collection can be accessed through the MERLIN library catalog.  Advice on using MERLIN to search Special Collections can be found here.

Users are encouraged to contact staff regarding availability of the manuscript and art collections; however, no advance notice is required for use. Photocopies and scans are permitted subject to the condition of the material and copyright regulations.

Finding Aids for Book Arts and Book History