Introduction to Books and Printed Materials

Our collection of books and other printed materials (including pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and broadsides) numbers over 500,000 items dating from the colonial era to the end of the nineteenth century. While national in scope it also embraces the Atlantic world. The links below lead to more detailed descriptions of the subjects most strongly represented at the Library Company. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Researchers are encouraged to contact our reference librarians about their specific areas of interest.

Our main subjects do not simply overlap, but are enmeshed with one another. One cannot fairly approach the collection for works on women’s domestic life, for example, without dipping into works of fiction and poetry, cookbooks, temperance tracts, agricultural treatises, and popular periodicals. Ours is a truly multidisciplinary collection whose strength lies in the collectivity of the works taken together. The printed words of ordinary people appear on our shelves alongside the published voices of experts and authorities. Our subject specialties, referred to broadly as “Americana,” include African Americana, agriculture, the Civil War, culinary history, early-American imprints, economics, education, German-Americana, natural history, philanthropy, politics (including government documents), popular literature and poetry, popular medicine, printing and book history, religion, science and technology, and women’s history.

Other collections of printed sources complement the works of Americana. Rare books spanning subjects from the early sciences to belles lettres and law represent the reading material of early Americans who until the mid nineteenth century relied on books imported from Europe before the establishment of American printing and publishing houses. Our printed ephemera includes sheet music and songsheets, comic valentines, playbills, carriers’ addresses, Centennial advertising, menus, product labels, banknotes, and more. Some are digitized and can be viewed via the Library Company’s website, while others can be accessed using local finding aids on site. Our large collection of serials – newspapers (strongest for Philadelphia), periodicals, and annual reports can be viewed in their original printed forms rather than microform surrogates. Our graphics collection including maps, photographs, prints and original works of art also compliments many of the subject specialities of the book collection.