Rare Book Collection

The Rare Book Collection is diverse. Holdings span the eighth to the twentieth centuries and include early manuscripts and manuscript fragments, printed books, periodicals, pamphlets, and broadsides. The collection contains important first editions of classical authors and authors of world importance, limited editions, association copies, and autographed copies in addition to works deemed rare by virtue of age.

How to Use the Collection

search-graphicWith a few exceptions, the collection can be accessed through the MERLIN library catalog.

The collection does not circulate. Rare books may be used in the Special Collections Reading Room during service hours or by appointment.



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.

English Political and Religious History

The Village Curate: An Interesting Tale BV4517 .V54 1800z

The Village Curate: An Interesting Tale, BV4517 .V54 1800z

The Rare Book Collection houses  over 20,000 seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century English tracts, pamphlets, broadsides and ephemera. They are especially rich in works about English religious life and controversies. For example, more than 200 deal with the Popish Plot of 1678. Anonymous pamphlets on a variety of political topics now attributed to Daniel Defoe are also available. Selected pamphlets can be accessed online through the Digital Library.

Guides to selected tracts include:

Five Views of An Age; A Selection of Late Seventeenth Century Pamphlets from Ellis Library's Rare Book Room

English Dissent; Catalogue to an Exhibition of Eighteenth Century Pamphlets, 18 October to 18 November 1979 by Margaret A. Howell and Charles F. Mullett.

These materials are of particular interest to scholars of religious history and press freedom.

History of Science

Pumpkins and Squash in De Historia Stirpium by Leonhart Fuchs, 1542.

De Historia Stirpium by Leonhart Fuchs (Basel, 1542), QK41 .F7

The history of the biological and physical sciences is strongly represented in landmark editions of works by Newton, Galileo, Darwin, Hooke, Leeuwenhoek, Linnaeus, Jussieu, Gessner, and Audubon, among many others.  The collection also includes anatomical works by Vesalius, Harvey, and Fabricius, as well as Renaissance medical herbals, including, Fuchs' De Historia Stirpium (1542); Hortus Sanitatis (1517); Mattioli's De Materia Medica (1583); and numerous other beautifully illustrated botanical works.

These works complement the University of Missouri’s emphasis on the life sciences, support interdisciplinary research, and provide an important access point for the study of intellectual history and scientific inquiry.

Rare Book Collection Finding Aids