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Rare Books

Overview of the Rare Book Collections

When the Department of Special Collections opened in 1962, the Washington University Libraries owned a small rare book collection, the finest pieces of which had been donated by St. Louis collector William Keeney Bixby. Throughout the 1920s and early ’30s, Bixby made significant donations of manuscripts and printed books, including a number of volumes produced by fine presses and a virtually complete Hawthorne collection.

The rare book collections now include over 60,000 printed pieces and represent all the disciplines the University Libraries collect. The collections’ primary strengths are in the areas of literature; the material culture of the book, including the history of printing, graphic design, and the book arts; and aspects of American and world history. Spanning seven centuries of written and visual communication, these collections support teaching and discovery across the University and are freely accessible to students, scholars, and visiting researchers.

The rare book collection includes named collections as well as books in the general collection. Use the library catalog to search the rare book collections or explore named collections by subject using the menu to the right. You can also view a full listing of named collection on our website.