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We have material from the beginnings of printing from movable type (incunabula) and even representative examples of the predecessors from the periods of the codex and manuscripts. There are in excess of 150,000 volumes in this area of our collections. We have 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 are collected to the present because of their rarity, significance in the history of printed material, or beauty as objects.

There are, however, several subject areas in which the SCRC has particular strengths. The whole spectrum of the reform movements that flourished in the 19th century in this region is of great interest to the institution, and there are clear precedents for aggressive collecting in these areas. Radicalism as it manifested itself in the arts and literature is another topic that is pursued with vigor. There is also a tradition of collecting in the fields of architecture, the industrial arts, and design.

Please see the subject strength pages to locate rare books in those particular areas. We are committed to procuring material that supports teaching of the history of science and technology, printing history, the graphic arts, the art of the book, and New York history and culture. In recent years, the SCRC has made a concerted effort to acquire printed matter that supports the manuscript holdings of the institution as well.

Digitized Materials

  • The SCRC's collection of cuneiform tablets can be found on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website.
  • Medieval Manuscripts 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), we have 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 would be 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."

When searching the catalog, set a search limit to "Special Collections" to find materials located in the SCRC.

Search the Classic Catalog.