Treasures unburied
March 3, 2009 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Libraries' Surprising Special Collections.

Since Smithsonian apparently doesn't quite get how the internet works, I've rounded up the web pages for these collections:
Griswold Chess Collection, Cleveland Public Library.
Fore-edge paintings, Boston Public Library (my favorite)
Arabic Papyrus, Parchment, and Paper, University of Utah. (Try the "browse" drop-down menu.)
Tober Forgery Collection, University of Delaware.
Nurse Romance Novel Covers, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (Awesome!)
Arents Collection on Tobacco, New York Public Library. (Click on "Collection contents, then "Tobacco, its History and Associations")
Severson Collection of WWI Avaiation, Saint Paul Public Library. (Nothing here, unfortunately.)
Judaica Sound Archive, Florida Atlantic University.
posted by Horace Rumpole (44 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
So I just got assigned this year's weeding for the periodicals collection, and tucked back in the corner behind the compact shelving is a little area that holds some of the library's local/overflow special collection. Whenever I get a chance (pretty frequently, actually) I go back there, perch on a little stool, and pore over old books. Turns out the special part of my lib's special collection is every single Will Rogers biography, though, so eh.

Excellent post.
posted by carsonb at 7:47 AM on March 3, 2009

Treasure Island Illustrated Editions. 450+ illustrated editions of Treasure Island. I covet this.

Special collections are often the end result of one persons lifetime magnificent obsession.
posted by stbalbach at 7:59 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

NYU's Bobst Library contains the Fales Library, a massive collection of primarily 18th and 19th century English literature, including first editions of Dickens, Eliot, etc. It's open to the public (through appointment) and highly recommended if you've ever fancied reading Pickwick Papers in its original serialized form, complete with hysterical Victorian-era advertisements.
posted by saladin at 8:04 AM on March 3, 2009

Actually I have the largest collection of forged documents. They're printing right now.
posted by GuyZero at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2009

I once had a summer job at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, moving books in their lower stacks. Among the random things they had that I can recall were a pair of Richard Wright's reading glasses, boxes and boxes of some famous author's cancelled checks, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's bible.
posted by reptile at 8:10 AM on March 3, 2009

The University of Michigan has one of the world's largest collections of radical lit, and Michigan State University boasts a truly impressive collection of comic books and graphic novels.

(I'm hoping someone knows of super-cool special collections near me.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:11 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

And the Toronto Public Library has the excellent The Merril Collection of Science Fiction: over 68,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in 'fringe' areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.

It also has the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection: different editions of Doyle's works, from the first to the most recent, along with simplified versions, translations, and adaptations to stage and screen as well as parodies, pastiches and any works in any medium that use Doyle's stories or characters.

Though these are fairly regular compared to the collection of fore-edge paintings I suppose.
posted by GuyZero at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2009

Klang, I just went on a tour of the William Andrews Clark Library this summer, and it is awesome. And father away, but even more amazing, is the Huntington.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:20 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fales also has an amazing Lewis Carroll collection. Best use they ever made of my obscene tuition fees, in my opinion.
posted by mayhap at 8:26 AM on March 3, 2009

I spent years in the stacks of Harvard's Widener library looking for its legendary erotica collection. Did it ever really exist?
posted by vacapinta at 8:28 AM on March 3, 2009

Widener definitely has the Cage, (and there's one at the Fine Arts Library as well) but I suspect it was never really all that steamy. At Houghton, we have some things like that in our vault (including the legendary-in-cataloging-circles Fuck You: a Journal of the Arts), but again, it's more historical curiosity than anything to read one-handed.

Now the Vatican, there's a secret porn library.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:37 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Edgar Rice Burroughs collection at the University of Louisville, speaking of one man's life's obsession.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2009

Klang, UCLA has the Film & Television archive: over 220,000 motion picture and television titles and 27 million feet of newsreel footage. They give public screenings and have other outreach programs.

Two of my very favorite online special collections are Duke's Ad*Access and Emergence of Advertising in America. Neato.
posted by cog_nate at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've linked to the University of South Carolina Library before, but they have several neat collections, including the F. Scott Fitzgerald Collection, the Newsfilm Library and the complete Audubon Birds of America Collection, among others. All with lots of documentation and scans online.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:56 AM on March 3, 2009

The University of Minnesota has the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies. It is awesome: "...Lamps - Clocks - Lunch pails - Swizzle sticks - Postage stamps - Comics - Fairy stones." There are stacks of yaoi comics, torture manuals from the Spanish Inquisition, and a book that got through a Nazi book burning intact.

Duke isn't the only place that has a zine collection -- I think Barnard's is the biggest/highest-profile, but I know the one at Duke because I was free labor there one summer during library school. Awesome, you can search it online now!
posted by clavicle at 9:04 AM on March 3, 2009

Here at UC Santa Cruz we have the collected papers of Robert Heinlein and the Greatful Dead archives.
posted by 445supermag at 9:45 AM on March 3, 2009

Now the Vatican, there's a secret porn library.

I tell people this and they think I am making it up.

I like the weird collection of medical literature and displays and anatomical mannikins at the University of Alabama Birmingham Lister Library that is in the special Cunningham Classification for Medical Literature classification scheme.
posted by jessamyn at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw the headline and thought "Ooooh, interesting". Then I clicked the link and read "I walk through an arched marble doorway and into one of the loveliest rooms I've seen anywhere". Ugh. Forget it. Not interesting enough to wade through that kind of bullshit.

Then I click the more inside, and you've pulled out all the meat. Hooray!
posted by team lowkey at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2009

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas has bizarre stuff too numerous to mention. The two 'WTF' holdings that come to mind are their extensive collections of locks of writers' hair and props from the Salvador Dali-Alfred Hitchcock Vertigo collaboration that never came to fruition. Think 'giant scissors.'
posted by spamguy at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2009

Darn, Klang, I was just coming in here to mention the MSU comics archive. My wife used to work in the MSU Library, I did myself as an undergrad; never got a chance to see the special collections, but I heard that there was a fairly impressive section of pornography as well as the graphic novels. But then again, I'll bet there are rumors that pretty much every large library has an impressive porn collection hidden somewhere. At least one of them has to, right?
posted by caution live frogs at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2009

The Lilly Library at Indiana University has an Ian Fleming collection (including original manuscripts for eleven James Bond novels), and the Slocum Puzzle Collection, with over 30,000 mechanical puzzles (a small fraction of which can be viewed online).
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2009

Also, MSU Comics Archive

(Link is to the "About" page. Site only lists the holdings, doesn't have any images, but... 200,000 items. That's a lot of graphic novels even if a big chunk of them are simply books about comics.)
posted by caution live frogs at 10:17 AM on March 3, 2009

But then again, I'll bet there are rumors that pretty much every large library has an impressive porn collection hidden somewhere. At least one of them has to, right?

There are also rumours that a lot of libraries are sinking.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2009

Since Smithsonian apparently doesn't quite get how the internet works

I'll say, I posted a comment saying it would be nice to have links ot the websites of the libraries mentioned and my comment just ... vanished. I have no idea where it might be.
posted by jessamyn at 10:38 AM on March 3, 2009

The University of Florida has the Baldwin Collection of Children's Literature, which is amazing. As part of a children's lit class, we were given a tour of the closed stacks--so many crumbling, old, beloved books.

My favorite part of their special collections, though, is this historic biscuit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:55 AM on March 3, 2009

...Boston Public Library has what it believes is the largest collection of fore-edge painted books in any public library.

Oooo, I used to do fore-edge doodles on all of my highschool textbooks, but didn't even know there was a name or history behind them!

A whole subgenre of nurse-romance novels? This FPP is great -- thanks!
posted by not_on_display at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2009

A couple of my favorite collections here at Penn State are the Jay Ruby Collection on the Photographic Representation of Death and the Fred Waring Cartoon Collection including work by Rube Goldberg, Hal Foster (Prince Valient), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), Milt Caniff (Terry & the Pirates), Walt Kelley (Pogo), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Ted Key (Hazel), Bil Keane (Family Circus) comics, many done on 30 x 30 tabletops. The room where these are stored is phenomenal. With the walls covered with the giant tabletop comics it's like walking right into the funny pages.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2009

Sydney University's special collections include, among others, Occult sciences, the Steele/Graham SF collections, and the Deane collections.
posted by zamboni at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2009

Wow, this was already a great post, and the links in the comments are making it amazing.

A couple from my former institution: May 4 Collection and prison postcards, at Kent State.
posted by box at 11:43 AM on March 3, 2009

Previously on The Blue: University of Virgnia's Artist's Books Online.
posted by fontophilic at 12:14 PM on March 3, 2009

Oh - Labadie is the radical lit collection klang mentions, and I believe there is porn in it. Radical feminist porn. Search the catalog for, like, Annie Sprinkle if you don't believe me.
posted by clavicle at 12:32 PM on March 3, 2009

How about the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" dime-novel collection at the University of Oklahoma's Western History center? (See page 3 for "The Tigress of Texas", "The Miner Marauder's Death Trail", and "Buffalo Bill's Chinee Pard".)
posted by ormondsacker at 12:36 PM on March 3, 2009

The State University of New York at Buffalo has a great pulp fiction collection.
posted by Phlogiston at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2009

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas has bizarre stuff too numerous to mention.

UT also has a large collection of maps.
posted by kmz at 1:25 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
posted by gudrun at 2:33 PM on March 3, 2009

Oh, I also thought it was odd that the article did not mention the Smithsonian Library's own special collections.
posted by gudrun at 2:44 PM on March 3, 2009

When I was a student at KSU, I know there was a large donated collection of erotica adjacent to the Rare Book Room in the library basement. I'm not sure it's still there, though - it doesn't seem to be listed in any of their collections. They did have several very nice incunabula in there, though.
posted by jquinby at 6:04 PM on March 3, 2009

In the small town of Sulphur Springs, Texas, the public library has a wonderful collection of antique music boxes. Seriously, it's kind of awesome. There's one music box that includes a monkey that smokes a cigarette while jumping up and down inside a top hat. Really.
posted by bradth27 at 7:56 PM on March 3, 2009

Among many other great arcana, the University of Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library Depart of Special Collections has a fantastic collection of colonial-era coins.
posted by Roach at 8:06 PM on March 3, 2009

I love the nurse romance novel covers!
posted by like_neon at 1:55 AM on March 4, 2009

The chess collection at the Cleveland library is also housed in some pretty kickass surroundings in the old building, if I remember correctly. (Haven't been up to that floor in a while).

The University of Southampton's Winchester School of Art and university library in the UK has some pretty astonishing knitting-related collections. The story of the Jane Waller knitting pattern collection is VERY cool.
posted by at 1:43 PM on March 4, 2009

The Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs at Syracuse University:

"The Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann photographs includes the work of Eisenmann, Frank Wendt, and others specialized in creating and marketing photographs of circus sideshow and dime museum performers in New York City during the latter part of the 19th century."
posted by activitystory at 11:15 AM on March 5, 2009

The Chris Brooks Collection at Exeter University. Victorian culture, including four thousand Victorian children's books. There's another collection of Edwardian and earlier children's books at Liverpool University, which also has some other collections I'm not particularly informed about - listed here and including the Gypsy Lore Society Collections and the SF Hub.

Great post, thanks. I worked in Special Collections in a university library one summer and had to catalogue all the photographs in seventy years of a local magazine, including listing the facial hair details of everyone in each picture, in case anyone wanted to look up hairy (or unhairy) people., did you know the Textile Conservation Centre, based at Southampton University/WSA and linked to the resource you mention, is closing?
posted by paduasoy at 6:25 AM on March 7, 2009

When I was about thirteen my very, very first job was spending an hour a week doing some basic cleaning in the local library. It was a very, very small building, which also housed some odds and ends from the town historical society next door.

Which explains why one day, when I climbed a ladder to dust the very top of some little-visited bookshelf, I suddenly found myself face to face with a German Pickelhaube helmet from World War I.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 PM on March 7, 2009

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