Book Collections

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The Rare Book & Manuscript Library welcomes scholars from around the world to use or inquire about the collection of rare books at the University of Illinois. The collection represents the entire range of printed material in the West, and extends from more than 1,100 incunables (books printed before 1501) to twenty–first century fine press publications. The general collection consists of approximately 500,000 volumes.Within this collection there are a number of thematic or author–based book collections established as "named" special collections. Some of the more important of these are described below.

Over the decades a number of these strong specializations have emerged due to the efforts of local scholars and librarians. The Shakespeare and Milton collections were founded as the result of the labors of Professors T. W. Baldwin and Harris F. Fletcher, respectively. The investigations of Marvin Herrick in sixteenth century Italian drama, Henri Stegemeier in emblem books and A. V. Carozzi in the history of geology also fostered rich concentrations.

The rare book collection represents virtually every discipline on campus and, in conjunction with the wide array of special collections in the library, is available to all interested students and scholars. 

Cataloging records of rare books are best found via the University Library's online catalog

Finding aids also describe many individual parts of the collection: these are noted in the descriptions below.

Reference questions concerning the rare book collection may be submitted through our online form, “Ask a Curator.

Please refer to our document; "Guidelines for Determining University Library Materials under the Care of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library" for additional information regarding which materials in the University Library are likely to be found in the collections of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Rare Book Collections (Selected)


The Asian Collection consists of material dating from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The majority of items are Japanese books printed between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. There are also a small number of Chinese books, as well as three Burmese "Kammavaca" (Buddhist prayer books). A large portion of the Asian Collection came from the library of Joseph K. Yamagiwa (1906-1968), a leading scholar and professor of Japanese at the University of Michigan. Professor Yamagiwa's collection, purchased in 1969, contained 1800 volumes and was divided between the Asian Library (now the International & Area Studies Library) and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The Asian Collection can be accessed through a card catalog in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. There are online catalog records available for many volumes.

Click here to be linked to an online finding aid for the Asian Collection.


The Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) collection was assembled by Hugh C. Atkinson, former University Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. It includes 223 first editions, later editions, and variant issues of Dreiser's publications. Included in the collection is one of only twelve original copies of Tragic America (1936). The collection was donated by Mrs. Mary N. Atkinson.

Reference: Friendscript, Fall 1987.

CHURCHILL, WINSTON, SIR (1874–1965)—COLLECTION, 1580+ vols.

The Churchill collection was assembled by London bookseller Harold Mortlake, and consists of editions of virtually everything Churchill wrote from 1898 till his death in 1965. It was purchased in 1970 and contains many presentation copies, autograph and typed letters, recordings, as well as biographical works, ephemera, and periodicals and newspapers with references to Churchill.

Click here to be linked to a searchable scanned guide to the first part of the Churchill Collection (Mortlake catalogue no. 132).

Click here to be linked to a searchable scanned guide to the second part of the Churchill Collection (Mortlake catalogue no. 132, supplement).

COBBETT, WILLIAM (1763–1835)—COLLECTION, 359+ vols.

The Cobbett Collection was purchased from British bookseller Arnold M. Muirhead in 1953. It consists of more than 200 titles by the radical British journalist and publisher. It includes important broadsides Cobbett wrote during two periods of residence in America, copies of Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register and Cobbett’s Parliamentary Debates, as well as books and pamphlets written in support of the working classes, and a substantial collection of correspondence.

Click here to be linked to the bibliographic record listing the contents of the Cobbett Collection.

COLLINS, JAMES (1840–1916)—IRISH COLLECTION, 6000+ vols.

This extensive library of noted Irish book collector James Collins was purchased in 1917. The collection is devoted to Irish history and culture, and includes 139 volumes of bound pamphlets, as well as 2,500 unbound pieces. In addition, there are whole and part runs of Irish periodicals, 127 volumes of primarily nineteenth century newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks of pictorial material, particularly of Irish political cartoons.

Click here to be linked to a searchable scanned sales catalog of the estate of James Collins.

Click here to be linked to the UIUC Digital Collections site, where images from the Collins Collection of Irish Political Cartoons may be seen.


Emblem books are a variety of illustrated book, primarily produced from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. They consist of collections of three–part compositions, each made up of an illustration, a motto (serving as the title of the piece) and an epigram or other written text. It is not uncommon for there to be additional explanatory sections in prose or verse. A broader interpretation includes many other types of illustrated books, such as emblematized fables, "Dance of Death" books, and books illustrating triumphs that contain numerous and prominent emblems. The development of the The Rare Book & Manuscript Library's Emblem Books Collection was due in large part to the efforts of Professor Henri Stegemeier (1912–2001). The collection was described by Thomas McGeary and N. Frederick Nash in Emblem Books at the University of Illinois (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1993). Since then, numerous emblem books have been added to the collection. Because of its special strengths, the collection is the basis for a digitization project.

To learn more about emblems, please visit our "What Emblems Are" webpage.

To explore the online database and digital images from the German Emblem book collection, please visit:


Frederic Ferguson, former managing director of Quaritch’s booksellers in London and a key contributor to the STC, assembled a collection of books mainly printed in Edinburgh between 1640 and 1700. Many items are unique, and some seldom–seen printers are represented. Much of the collection remains in contemporary bindings, and some volumes contain Ferguson’s penciled notes.

Click here to be linked to a searchable checklist (by H.L. Harner) of the Ferguson Collection.


Richard Barksdale Harwell (1915–1988) was a prolific bibliographer, author and editor of literature relating to the American Civil War. The collection bearing his name comprises some 1200 Confederate imprints, including sheet music, and 900 other Civil War publications.

Access to the Harwell Collection is by reference to holdings information in T. Michael Parrish and Robert M. Willingham, Jr.'s Confederate imprints (and predecessor publications), copies of which are available in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library's reference collection.

HECHT, BEN, 1893-1964—COLLECTION, 200 vols.

The Ben Hecht collection includes all of the author's first editions (several signed or inscribed), many British and first paperback editions, as well as a selection of reprints. Special attention is paid to variants. Also included are mimeographed copies of five of his screenplays, and Hecht's agent's typescript of the novella "The Pink Hussar". There are also three T.L.S. and various ana. The collection was purchased from the Village Book Store, Toronto, in 1977. Several items have been added since then, including the typescript for Marilyn Monroe's "My Story", for which Hecht was the ghostwriter. Holdings can be discovered using the online catalog.


Marvin T. Herrick (1899–1966) was a member of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of English whose interests led him to select for the library primarily sixteenth century editions of early Italian drama. The collection was named for him at the time of his death.

Click here to be linked to a scanned searchable checklist of the Herrick Collection.


Henry C. Hutchins of Yale University was a scholar and bibliographer of Defoe. His collection contains works by Defoe and his contemporary polemicists, among other eighteenth century works, especially travel literature and translations from the French.

Click here to be linked to a scanned searchable checklist of the Hutchins Collection.


The rare book collection includes more than 1,100 incunabula, books published in the fifteenth century, during the “cradle days” of printing. Among them is a significant fragment (24 leaves) of the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg. Also represented are works from the press of the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, as well as works from the first printers across Europe. Rare editions printed in England and in English are also represented. The incunabula collection offers not only early printed versions of important texts, but also a physical record of the history of the early days of printing.

Click here to be linked to a scanned searchable catalog by Marian Harman (1979) of the Incunabula Collection.

Click here to be linked to a scanned searchable supplemental catalog by Christopher D. Cook (2005) of the Incunabula Collection.


Thanks to the generosity of Ernest Ingold, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library possesses copies of all four Shakespeare folios, a set of "Pavier" quartos (1619), a copy of the 1640 Poems, and the stationer's fragment (ca. 1603–1607) that documents the possible lost play by Shakespeare, Love's Labor’s Won. He gave many copies of books used by Shakespeare as sources, eighteenth-century editions of Shakespeare, promptbooks, and other valuable items of Shakespeareana. Among Mr. Ingold's non–Shakespearean gifts were a set of the "Grove Plays" issued by the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and collections of first editions of the works of Bret Harte, Mark Twain and Eugene O’Neill.

Reference: An exhibition of books presented to the University of Illinois Library by Ernest Ingold--Class of 1909. Urbana: Rare Book Room, University of Illinois Library, 1969.  See also: T.W. Baldwin and Isabelle Grant, Shakspere at Illinois: Notes on an exhibition of the Ernest Ingold folios and other Shakspereana in the University of Illinois Library. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1951.


The first part of the Saul Bellow collection assembled by Joe W. Kraus came to the Library in 1996. Since then, Dr. Kraus has been steadily adding books and periodicals containing material by and about Saul Bellow. Complementing the collection are looseleaf binders containing photocopies of reviews of Bellow's books, Dr. Kraus's index of characters in Bellow's writings, and photocopies of obituaries.

MILTON, JOHN (1608–1674)—COLLECTION, 3000+ vols.

The John Milton collection includes more than 100 seventeenth-century editions of Milton, with more than 3,000 volumes of later editions and works of criticism. Supporting the Milton collection is a broad array of seventeenth-century imprints in English history, literature, and religion. The collection, developed by Harris Fletcher, forms the core of the Library’s outstanding holdings in seventeenth-century printed books and maps.

Reference: Harris F. Fletcher, Collection of First Editions of Milton works: University of Illinois Library, an Exhibition. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1953.


Richard Murphy, Professor of Speech Communication emeritus, retired from the University of Illinois 1971. In 1979, he donated his extensive collection of books on elocution, or, that part of rhetoric dealing with pronunciation, articulation and rules for reading. The collection contains material from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, and is particularly rich in texts and manuals of the nineteenth century. Access to the collection is through the online and card catalogs.

Reference: Friendscript, Vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1980)


Lloyd F. Nickell, an alumnus of the University of Illinois, assembled this fine collection of English literature of the eighteenth century during his twenty–year residence in England as a business executive. "The Carlten Lodge Library," as Nickell called his collection, was purchased in 1963. It contains rare editions of all the great writers of the period, including Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Pope, Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Addison and Smollett. The books are generally in exceptionally fine condition. Access to the collection is through the online and card catalogs.


Israel Perlstein was a New York bookseller who specialized in Slavic materials. The collection bearing his name represents the foremost achievements in twentieth-century Czech book design. It is rich in limited editions of Czech literature published in the 1920s and 1930s by the best–known private and provincial presses.

SMITH, ALEXANDER (1830?–1867)—COLLECTION, 200+ vols.

Perhaps the only Alexander Smith collection in the world, materials include all first editions, reprints, reissues in fine editions, and various uncollected items of the Scottish poet, essayist, novelist, critic once regarded as one of the most eminent writers of the nineteenth century. The collection was given in 1979 by Richard Murphy, Professor of Speech Communication emeritus, whose interest in Smith began when he was a graduate student.

Reference: Friendscript, Vol. 1, no. 4 (Winter 1979-80)