Antiquarian Books Special Collections Research Center

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medieval book spread open with 2 pages that include antique font type and colorful ornate illustrations around bottom

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More than 150,000 volumes of material from the beginnings of printing from movable type (incunabula) and representative examples of the predecessors from the periods of the codex and manuscripts. The collection includes two leaves from the forty-two-line Gutenberg Bible and other incunables, as well as Books of Hours that were the manuscript models that Gutenberg and other early printers sought to emulate. Other antiquarian books and printed materials collected to present based on their rarity, significance in the history of printed material, or as objects of beauty.

Our collection is strong within the whole spectrum of the reform movements that flourished in the 19th century in this region, radicalism as it manifested itself in the arts and literature, and materials in the fields of architecture, the industrial arts, and design. Refer to the subject pages to locate rare books in those areas, as well as the history of science and technology, printing history, the graphic arts, the art of the book, and New York history and culture, and manuscript holdings of the institution.

Archival Materials

Digitized Materials

  • The SCRC's collection of cuneiform tablets can be found on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website.
  • Selected images of ten Medieval Manuscripts, ranging from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, have been digitized with descriptive information. The collection includes an apocalyptic text by Telesphorus; glossed decretals of popes Innocent IV and Gregory IX; a Dominican gradual of saints; a part of the Old Testament, which consists of a fragment of the Books of Tobit and Esther, and a complete Book of Judith; and six Books of Hours.

Audio and Visual Materials

Many of the antiquarian books and related archival collections contain visual material. For example, see:

  • A complete set of The Birds of America by John James Audubon.
  • The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, ornamented with pictures designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and engraved on wood by W.H. Hooper.
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson and His Friends illustrated with one frontispiece and twenty five photogravures from negatives by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Rare Books and Printed Materials

In addition to the two leaves from the Gutenberg Bible (one incorporating the twenty-third psalm), the collection includes a representative sampling of incunables from the first era of printing with moveable type. We also have rare classic works in religion, science, medicine, philosophy, history, politics, and literature. Examples are Copernicus's De Revolutionibus describing the correct position of the sun with respect to the earth, Fasciculus medicinae (the first illustrated medical book), Darwin's On the Origine of Species, the Kelmscott Chaucer, and a full set of Audubon's Birds of America.

Useful search terms to locate antiquarian books in the catalog include "illuminated manuscripts," "incunabula," "antiquarian," and "first edition."

Search the Catalog.

Programs and Events

  • The Power and the Piety (Spring 2012)
  • The Art of the Book, The Book as Art (Spring 2007)
  • The Book of Origins: A Survey of American Fine Binding (Spring 2007)