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Rare Books and Early Manuscripts at the University of Chicago Library

This guide contains resources, descriptions, and tutorials on how to use the rare book and early manuscript collections at the University of Chicago Library. There is also information and resources on book history, printing, and book collecting.

Introduction

This page contains information and resources related to the University of Chicago's named rare book collections. These are collections that are grouped together by a specific name which often represents the name of the original collector or donor.  Please take note that there are many distinct books that do not fall into a specific collection outisde of these described here. You can still locate hundreds of rare books in the catalog. We are providing these descriptions here as a starting point and to help draw attention to specific subject strengths.

Rare Books: Literature and Drama Collections

 

Fred W. Atkinson Collection of American Drama: The University of Chicago acquired this substantial collection of American plays from Fred W. Atkinson in 1925. Six years later, the University of Chicago acquired Atkinson’s collection of 72 early American novels and works of fiction. The collection is notable both for the breadth of its early American holdings and its Ethiopian Drama section, which consists of nineteenth-century minstrel plays and joke books.

Celia and Delia Austrian Study Collection of Drama 1660-1800: In 1929 the University received by bequest from Delia Austrian her library of "reference and research books in the fields of the drama and short story writing together with all her paintings, etchings, prints, catalogs, European and American postal card collections." The library consisted almost entirely of late 19th and 20th century publications dealing with the history of the drama, playwriting, theatrical biography and autobiography, stagecraft and related theatre arts, the text of modern English and American dramas, and certain other related materials. It has since grown to include extensive holdings of 18th-century British drama, and extends to Continental works as well.

Linckesche Leihbibliothek (Lincke) Collection: The Linckesche Leihbibliothek was a rental library founded in 1791 in Leipzig by the bookdealer and publisher W. Lincke. In 1930, the University of Chicago acquired (from the Leipzig bookseller Otto Harrassowitz) a collection of 8,500 titles in 15,000 volumes that had been part of the Linckesche Leihbibliothek und Buchhandlung. The collection provides an extraordinary record of popular literature published in German between 1775 and 1875 (principally 1820 to 1850). Of the German works, only a small percentage are by noted literary figures, the remainder being by authors of popular literature of the day. Approximately 30% of the volumes are translations into German, largely from English (including Walter Scott) and French (including Balzac); also included are works translated from Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and eight other European languages.

Harriet Monroe Modern Poetry CollectionThe Modern Poetry book collection comprises well over 25,000 volumes, and the collection continues to grow by 1,000-1,200 volumes a year. Books and serials in the general and rare components of the Modern Poetry collection are accessible through the Library's online catalog.

Helen and Ruth Regenstein Collection of Rare BooksIn 1965, Mrs. Joseph Regenstein announced a gift to the University of Chicago from the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation to support the building of the Joseph Regenstein Library as a memorial to her late husband. That same year, the first book was acquired for the Helen and Ruth Regenstein Collection of Rare Books, named for Mrs. Regenstein and Mr. and Mrs. Regenstein's daughter, Ruth.The goal of the project conceived by Mrs. Regenstein was to secure for the University of Chicago Library fine copies of important works of literature and the humanities in first or early editions. Over the past thirty years, the Regenstein Collection has grown to nearly 3,000 titles, representing a core group of English, American, and continental literary and humanistic texts. These books occupy a unique place in the Library's holdings because they are of both textual and artifactual interest.

 

Rare Books:Humanities and Social Sciences

William E. Barton Collection of LincolnianaThe Rev. William Eleazar Barton (1861-1930) was one of the early twentieth century's most prominent writers and lecturers on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Among the 3,500 books in Barton's collection are most of the significant works on Lincoln published since his presidency, first editions of the printings of a number of Lincoln's pre-presidential speeches; seventy-five volumes from the law library of Lincoln and his partner William Herndon; a dozen titles from the collection of Lincoln's secretary John Hay; and a broadside copy of the Emancipation Proclamation bearing the signatures of Lincoln, William Seward, and John G. Nicolay.

The Chopin CollectionThe Chopin Collection at the University of Chicago Library consists of over 400 first and significant printed editions of musical compositions by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849). 

R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company Collection: In 1979, the University of Chicago received a gift of 1,200 volumes from the R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company. The collection, previously part of the Training Department Library of the Donnelley Company, included works on the history of printing and printing processes and examples of bindings, finely printed books, advertising art, and graphic design.

Earl J. Hamilton Collection in the History of EconomicsThe Earl J. Hamilton Collection contains more than 3,000 titles in the history of economics, with special strengths in the history of the Spanish economy, the life of John Law of Lauriston and Law's involvement in the Mississippi Bubble, and the works of the principal European economic theorists.

Louis Szathmary Family Collection of Hungarica: In 1991, the University of Chicago Library received a gift of more than 15,000 volumes on the history and culture of the Hungarian people, donated by Louis Szathmary, a noted Chicago bibliophile and restaurateur. The majority of materials are in the Hungarian language, but the collection also contains nearly 1,500 volumes in German, Latin, French and English. Among the collection's greatest strengths are its unique works on the Hungarian nobility, the origin and early history of the Hungarian nation, the Turkish occupation (circa 1526-1675) and the history of Louis Kossuth and the Hungarian uprising of 1848- 1849. The Szathmary Collection is located in both the circulating collections and Special Collections.

Rare Books: Philosophy and Religion

Maurice H. Grant Collection of English BiblesAcquired in the 1940s, this collection includes 191 folio editions and 106 smaller editions of English Bibles ranging in date from 1537 to 1835.

Emma B. Hodge Collection of Reformation imprints: This collection contains works written or containing commentary by Erasmus, Luther, and Philip Melanchthon. 

Richard McKeon Collection of Aristotle and Medieval and Renaissance PhilosophyThe library formed by Richard McKeon reflected his conception of historical and philosophical interrelationships as well as his practical needs as a scholar for texts. He was an avid buyer of books from his high school days, and sixty-five years later he counted "some 40,000 volumes" in his working library.

Ludwig Rosenberger Library of Judaica:The Ludwig Rosenberger Library of Judaica at the University of Chicago Library, formed by Chicago collector and businessman Ludwig Rosenberger (1904-1987), contains over 17,000 titles documenting the social and cultural history of the Jewish people.

Harry and Branka Sondheim Jewish Heritage CollectionThe Harry and Branka Sondheim Jewish Heritage Collection is a unique resource for understanding the history of Jewish life and customs. The Sondheim collection was carefully assembled over many years by Harry Sondheim, a University of Chicago alumnus (A.B. 1954; J.D. 1957). The Sondheim Collection provides a rich, varied, and detailed vision of Jewish life from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.

Rare Books: History of Science

John Crerar Collection of Rare Books in the History of Science and MedicineThis collection of over 25,000 volumes which includes classic works of Vesalius, Galileo, and Newton, the collection ranges from incunabula to the 20th century. 

Morris Fishbein Collection

Children's Literature

Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Children's Literature: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Literature for Children was formed by a Chicago businessman and private collector, Henry C. Friedman (1872-1945), who began collecting children's books just after World War I; by the time of his death in 1945, he had collected over 5,000 volumes that were purchased from his estate by Encyclopaedia Britannica and presented to the University of Chicago. Since the acquisition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection in 1945, the collection has nearly doubled in size, with acquisitions concentrating on the pre-1917 period.

Historical Children's Books:  In 2014 the decision was made to separate out the original Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection from the materials acquired since 1945.  The Historical Children's Book Collection was created and is currently over 15,000 volumes.  Works in the collection range from the 18th century to the modern day.

Rare Book Digital Highlights from the library's collection

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Catherine Uecker

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