The rare book collections include literary works from the 15th century to the present. Early modern holdings feature significant works by Shakespeare, Jonson, Spenser, Beaumont and Fletcher, Milton, and Dryden, as well as Pierre de Ronsard and Lodovico Ariosto. The collection is particularly strong in 19th-century works, with numerous examples of the popular “three-decker” format, and modern literature, including the work of important 20th-century literary figures such as William Gaddis and Tennessee Williams.
The library and autograph collection of St. Louis collector George N. Meissner came to the University in 1962 as a gift from his family, along with funds for the construction of Special Collections' original reading room and storage space. While part of Meissner's collection can be found in the manuscript unit, its roughly 2,000 volumes are held in the rare book collections. They represent fine books from the 15th century to the present, including early illuminated manuscripts and incunabula. One of the collection's most notable volumes is Samuel Taylor Coleridge's copy of Chapman's Whole Works of Homer (1616). The volume includes Coleridge's annotations and inscription to Sara Hutchinson, the object of the poet's unrequited love.
Gaddis Library || Nemerov Library || Swenson Library
Special Collections' most comprehensive holdings are found in its Modern Literature Collections. Unique literary archives (found in the manuscript unit) form the core of this collection and are complemented by definitive collections of published works: first editions, later editions, copies corrected or inscribed by the authors, and other materials pertaining to the authors' lives and writing. In the years since his collection was formed, its list of authors has grown from 46 to more than 170, including such figures as Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Marianne Moore, and James Merrill.
Gert von Gontard was a book collector, patron of the arts, and publisher of the 1930s avant-garde literary and arts magazine Neue Revue. Forced to flee his native Germany during World War II, he devoted his life to what he described as "the holy mission of art, the overcoming of international prejucide." His personal collection, donated to Washington University in 1981, includes more than 4,500 volumes on art, literature, music, and theater. Approximately 1,200 items are related to Johann Wolfgang van Goetye, ranging from first editions to autograph letters and an original drawing by the young Goethe. The von Gontard family continues to support the collection and to enhance its holdings.