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Rare Book Collection

Rare Book Collections

About the Rare Book Collections
Overview of collections
Class presentations
Press room and printing course
Special files

About the Rare Book Collections

The University Library's Rare Book Collection was founded in 1954 and transferred to The Bancroft Library in 1970. It is responsible for collecting, preserving, and making accessible old, rare, fragile, and sensitive materials over the entire range of the Library of Congress classification scheme. As it is impossible to collect actively in all fields, certain collections are more significant than others. As a rule, the Rare Book Collections avoid the subject areas of law, medicine, music, and East Asiatic languages, since other campus libraries specialize in these areas. Genealogy and military science are not collected. The overview of collections provides a brief overview of some of the more important rare book collections available for use at The Bancroft Library.

Overview of collections

Tebtunis Papyri
Contains nearly 35,000 papyrus fragments, ca. 300 B.C.-300 A.D. The collection is detailed in the printed catalog available in the Bancroft reference room. The bulk of the papyri are written in Greek, but there are also Demotic and some Latin pieces. For more information, please consult the Tebtunis Papyri / APIS Project website.

Medieval manuscripts
About 300 codices and hundreds of paleographical specimens dating from ca. 1000 A.D. to 1600. Many of the manuscripts have been microfilmed and use of the film in place of the original is urged for textual work. Of particular note are the French vernacular romances of the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Library holds over 400 15th century books including classical texts, historical, literary, and scientific works. Search for items via OskiCat, Digital Scriptorium and Philobiblon.

Fernán-Nuñéz Collection
225 volumes of manuscripts, ca. 1490-1800 from the archives of the Dukes of Fernán-Nuñéz (south of Córdoba in southern Spain). The collection contains literary, political, diplomatic, and historical texts. A preliminary guide to the collection is available at the Reference Desk in Bancroft.

Classical Authors
There are very strong collections of classical texts printed in the 15th-18th centuries. Of these, the most comprehensive is the Horace collection featuring hundreds of editions of the author's works, commentaries on them, and translations into most western languages. The collection of Aldine editions is particularly noteworthy.

Renaissance books
16th- and early 17th-century holdings are especially strong in Italian and Spanish, with significant collections of French and German imprints. There are fine examples of the works of Erasmus, Luther, the Italian humanists, and productions of the scholar printers, e.g. Aldus, the Estiennes, Froben, Plantin.

English literature
The Library holds a wide range of material in this field, including all four Shakespeare folios, early editions of Ben Jonson, Chaucer, Spenser, and other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers. The Milton Collection is particularly strong including virtually all of the variants of the first edition of Paradise Lost. There are also important collections of certain 18th-century authors, the Romantics, and selected contemporary writers. The Library's strongest collections of 19th- and 20th-century authors include the works of Blake, Byron, Conrad, Walter De La Mare, Dickens, Norman Douglas, H. Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Joyce, Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, John Mortimer, Sean O'Faolain, the Rossettis, Walter Scott, Shelley, Stephen Spender, Tom Stoppard, H. G. Wells, and Yeats. Manuscripts of many of these authors are also held by the Library.

History of Science
Many landmark books in the history of science are available at Bancroft. Recent collecting emphasis has been on 18th-century French mathematics, but important examples of the works of Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Brahe and many others are held by the Library. Rare book collections in the history of science complement the collecting of the papers of contemporary scientists by the History of Science and Technology Program, also a part of The Bancroft Library.

American Literature
The preeminent author collection at Bancroft is the Mark Twain Papers, consisting of manuscripts, correspondence, and pictorial material as well as books. The Library is especially strong in writers identified with California (e.g. Gertrude Atherton, Mary Austin, William Everson, Bret Harte, Robinson Jeffers, Jack London, Frank Norris, George Sterling, William Saroyan, etc.). There are very important collections of other American authors including Richard Brautigan, Willa Cather, T. S. Eliot, Faulkner, Frost, Julian and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sidney Howard, William Dean Howells, Henry James, William McFee, Wright Morris, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Thornton Wilder, William Carlos Williams, and Harry Leon Wilson. [See also African-American Writers and Bancroft Poetry Archive].

History of Books and Printing
The Library is especially interested in documenting the history of books and printing. The collection includes important examples of printing techniques and landmarks in the history of publishing (from sumptuous deluxe editions to dime novels and chapbooks). The Strouse Collection on the Art & History of the Book is a treasure trove of fine bindings and private press books. It contains some of the finest examples of the printer's and binder's art with special emphasis on Cobden-Sanderson, William Morris, and printed books of hours. In addition, the Library maintains a collection known by the acronym "BART" (Bancroft Artifacts Relating to Typography) documenting the history of writing and printing from hieroglyphics and cuneiform writing to desktop publishing. The Press Room in Bancroft houses a 19th- century Albion hand press and a half-sized replica of a 17th-century English common press as well as type cases, galleys, and all the equipment necessary for a print shop. [See also Press room and printing course].

Bransten Coffee and Tea Collection
This is one of the most complete collections in existence on the subject. It also includes many books on chocolate. The works included range in date from the 16th century to the present.

French Revolution
Nearly 10,000 pamphlets and numerous other sources (monographs, periodicals, and posters) from the late 1780s through the end of the Revolutionary era. A guide to the French Revolutionary Pamphlet collection is available at the Reference Desk.

African-American Writers
This collection includes the work of black American writers from the 18th century to the present. The Langston Hughes collection is especially noteworthy, and the research value of the African-American Writers collection is enhanced by the Abadjian Collection (notes, clippings, indices, ephemera, and pictorial materials on black American subjects).

American Wit and Humor
Named for its creator, Theodore Koundakjian, this collection is particularly strong in 19th-century American imprints. It includes jest books, books in dialect, and humor books by hundreds of American authors.

Fine Printing
With special emphasis on the Bay Area, this collection contains nearly complete collections of such notable private presses as Grabhorn, L. & D. Allen, John Henry Nash, Adrian Wilson, Greenwood, and many more. British and European private presses from the 18th century to the present are also well represented. The documentary archives of several of these presses are held at Bancroft.

The Library has a wide range of holdings in this field. A guide to theater collections in The Bancroft Library is available at the Reference Desk.

This special collection ranges in date from the 17th to the 19th centuries, covering many aspects of the cultivation and use of tobacco.

Bancroft Poetry Archive
The Library's collection of modern poetry concentrates particularly on Bay Area poets since World War II. It includes scarce periodicals as well as monographs, and a number of manuscript collections (e.g. City Lights Publishing Company, Auerhahn Press, and the papers of several individual poets) making it a rich resource for research.


The Rare Book Librarian David Faulds is available by appointment to discuss bibliographical questions, access, and other questions relating to rare books, medieval manuscripts, and library resources in these areas.

Class presentations

The Rare Book Librarian David Faulds and Instruction Specialist Lee Anne Titangos make presentations of books, manuscripts, and printing history to classes (usually held in Bancroft's seminar rooms) and may include a review of major bibliographical sources in a particular field. These presentations are designed in consultation with the instructor.

Press room and printing course

Next to the Reading Room is the Library's Press Room. A course, The Hand-Printed Book in Its Historical Context, is conducted in the Press Room twice a week. The course is offered under the aegis of the Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies Department as UGIS 140. Under the guidance of the instructor, students examine rare books and artifacts from the Bancroft collections ranging in date from the 15th century to the present. The course also presents a historical perspective on the various technologies involved in the production of printed books: type founding, paper making, binding, illustrations, and the evolution of the printing press itself. As a group, the students handset and print a small publication on the Library's cast iron presses — the Albion (ca. 1856) and the Reliance (ca. 1913). For further information, consult the UGIS Department or Bancroft's Instruction Specialist Lee Anne Titangos.

The Bancroft Library Press publications:

Special files

Special catalog files include those arranged by place and date to permit retrieval of printed books within a specific time period and place. It is a simple matter to locate the Library's holdings of, for example, books printed in Calvin's Geneva in the 1560s. Another special file is arranged by printer or publisher; e.g. books printed by Aldus are readily identifiable. A third file documents the provenance of books; e.g. a check of this file indicates which books from Edward Gibbon's library are owned by Bancroft. The binding file is useful for tracing the work of particular binders, binding styles, dated bindings, and specimens of types of binding.

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