Introduction to the Collections
The holdings of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, some 70,000 volumes, range from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth century authors.
The collections consist primarily of printed books and pamphlets, dating from the 1470s on, including over 100 incunabula. The sixteenth century/STC collections number over 1,400 volumes and contain books printed in sixteenth century Europe or listed in Wing's Short-Title Catalogue of English books, 1475-1700. There are individual books which are rare, and groups of books and pamphlets whose importance lies in the fact that they form a collection of related materials. Rare books include those selected for significant provenance, the quality of the text, historical value, physical features such as printing, binding, maps, and illustrations, or date of publication.
RBSC houses over 100 manuscripts, dating from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. Included are medieval legal documents, papal bulls, books of hours, monumental choir books and philosophical and legal codices. The most recent acquisition is a fourteenth century manuscript of the Quodlibeta of Godfrey of Fontaines, a detail of which is reproduced here.
The most significant special collection in the department is the Clementine Library, the remains of the library of the Albani family, whose most prestigious member was Pope Clement XI (1700-21). A large collection of Roman and canon law held both in the Clementine collection and elsewhere in the department includes early printings of Justinian and Gratian, together with records of councils and writings of jurists and canonists from the medieval and early modern periods.
Other collections include the Connolly Irish Collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century books and pamphlets; the Richard N. Foley Collection of modern literature; the Order of Malta collections; the Michael Jenkins Collection on the history of Maryland; and a collection on monumental brasses (the ornamental grave slabs of late medieval tombs). The department holds a growing collection of works on the book arts and history of the book.