Books & Printed Materials

Our collection of rare books and other printed materials (including pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and broadsides) numbers nearly one million items mostly dating from the colonial era to 1880 (and in some areas on into the early 20th century). Most materials were printed in America, and in fact we have one of the three largest collections of American books printed before 1800. However, the collection also includes large numbers of 15th to 19th century books imported by the Library Company from Great Britain and the Continent, or acquired from private collectors. Thus it is perhaps the most complete and accurate representation anywhere of what Americans were actually reading over an extensive period. We have long participated in cooperative imaging and digital publishing projects, so many of our early American imprints are available online. Our readers typical use originals in conjunction with digital resources.

Collection Strengths

We have printed materials on every imaginable subject, but the areas most strongly represented in our collections are African Americana, agriculture, the Civil War, culinary history, early-American imprints, business and economics, education, German-Americana, natural history, philanthropy, politics (including government documents), popular literature, popular medicine, printing and book history, religion, science and technology, and women’s history. In keeping with the broad scope of our collecting, these subject areas overlap and 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. Most of our new acquisitions fall into these subject areas, but our emphasis is on books written and read by ordinary people, and on the most ephemeral kinds of print, simply because most of the famous and highly approved books are already on our shelves or in other local libraries. We especially avoid duplication of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s holdings.