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Distinctive Collections

This collection specifically emphasizes Confederate Imprints. The RBML does not actively collect materials from the American Civil War outside of this category in an effort not to conflict with the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections.


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.

The majority of Arctic exploration-related works in the library are shelved under the call number 919.8 and many can be found in the Classic Catalog using the subject heading “Arctic regions, Discovery and exploration.” In addition to the general Arctic collections, four named collections of Arctic material are held by the RBML. The RBML also holds several rare Arctic newspaper titles.

The RBML maintains a collection of pre-1945 children’s literature, board books, pop-up books, and award winning 20th & 21st century children’s literature in collaboration with SSHEL.

The RBML Digital Collections offers an ample gamut of primary source materials, ranging from rare books, periodicals, games, and manuscript collections. Please visit the following page for an enhanced description: Digital Collections

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 Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Emblem Books Collection was due in large part to the efforts of Professor Henri Stegemeier (1912–2001). 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 explore the online database and digital images from the German Emblem book collection, please visit: Emblematica Online

Our holdings include over 1500 American film and television scripts, 2500 press kits, and over 4000 audiovisual materials, as well as miscellaneous ephemera and reference materials. The whole comprises a near-statistical sampling of American major studio production. Highlights include a set of storyboards from Citizen Kane (1941) and scripts from such films as Frankenstein (1931), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Star Wars (1977) and Titanic (1997).

Robert Carringer collection, 1989-2008
Leskosky collection of film press kits, 1939-2007
Perry Miller Adato papers and films, ca. 1968-1982

Materials related to painting, sculpture, calligraphy, and other visual arts, as unrelated to fine press materials. Adding to this collection is conducted in consultation with Ricker Art & Architecture Library.

Architecture & Landscape Architecture

Pre-1800, mostly Euro-centric materials related to the history of architecture & landscape architecture. Adding to this collection is conducted in consultation with Ricker Art & Architecture Library.

Materials related to literature, culture and the arts in France for the Belle Époque (1871-1914) and World War I periods (1914-1919). Includes books, periodicals, and select archival materials.


The correspondence and other papers of French author Marcel Proust and his circle provide a look at the man and his times. Proust had a large and varied number of correspondents, and his letters include an important source of information about Parisian life and French culture at the turn of the century.

Click here to be linked to the Philip Kolb Collection of Marcel Proust Papers finding aid.

Historic and modern board games purchased for instruction purposes and for use in outreach. Historic board games are typically reproduced so they may be easily handled. Tarot cards are also included in this collection, with additions from the Mandeville Collection, which is managed by SSHELL. For tarot cards, there is a distinction between cards that are being preserved for historical purposes and those that are able to be actively used. A significant portion of the current Game Collection features games related to lottery, chance, gambling and money.

The history of economics collection broadly consists of books pertaining to 18th, 19th, and 20th c. economics in Europe. These volumes have a significant emphasis on political economics, although household economics is also represented. There are also several manuscript collections of note. The Jacob H. Hollander collection consists of manuscripts and letters pertaining to the 19th and 20th c. political economics of Europe.


Collection of Jacob H. Hollander, American economist, author and professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University (1900-1935). Includes letters dealing with economics, chiefly nineteenth-century English economics. A supporting collection of books in the history of economics is also available.

Click here to be linked to the bibliographic record and digitized version of the printed catalog of the Hollander Collection.

Click here to be linked to the bibliographic record and digitized version of the supplement to the catalog.

Click here to be linked to a searchable online finding aid.

The history of medicine includes manuscripts, printed books, and ephemeral publications regarding the human body and its health. Related materials in the History of Science collections include herbals and botanical volumes which list the medicinal usages of various plants. Notable works include early printed editions of Vesalius, Galen, and other classical authors; early and Enlightenment era manuals on midwifery and physiology, including books linking the study of astrology to physical health; and twentieth century studies and bibliographies.

The history of pedagogy and education of children across multiple eras and countries.


Baldwin’s goal was to collect every book that Shakespeare and his contemporaries might have read from the age of 6 to 60. The collection consists of more than 5,800 volumes of 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century texts of classical authors, commentaries, Bibles and prayer books, rhetorics, histories, and English literature, particularly of the Elizabethan period.

Click here to be linked to a searchable scanned guide to the Baldwin Collection.

Click here to be linked to the bibliographic record for the Baldwin Catalog.


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.

Major collections in the fields of Ornithology, Geology, Engineering, Computer Science, Volcanology, Chemistry, Knowledge Organization, Entomology, and Agricultural Science.

Incunabula Collection

The rare book collection includes more than 1,200 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.

Renaissance Imprints

Illinois boasts of one of the largest collections of early modern imprints (1454-1650) in the United States. Use our online catalog to discover them.

Our Italian materials cover a range of subjects including popular plays, religious treatises, political pamphlets, and works of science. Of further note is the Cavagna collection that consists of over 20,000 printed works and bound manuscripts, as well as maps and prints.

CAVAGNA COLLECTION, 1116-1913, 30,000+ vols., 90 cu. ft.

Collection of Count Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana (1843-1913), an Italian nobleman, public official, author, and recognized authority on the local history of Lombardy and Piedmont. The Cavagna Collection consists of 30,000+ volumes of print materials, accessible via the library’s online catalog under the heading “Cavagna Collection;” and the “Archivio Cavagna Sangiuliani,” which consists of 138 portfolios of unbound manuscripts arranged alphabetically by place, 290 bound volumes of manuscript material (ca. 50 items earlier than 1600), and 100 volumes of later transcripts from Italian archives.

His library contained a great many books on genealogy, biography, and local history, including materials on municipal governments. The manuscripts especially reflect the study of local history; most relate to Italian cities and towns, institutions, societies, and noble families.

Click here to be linked to a searchable scanned guide to the manuscripts and printed documents of the Archivio Cavagna Sangiuliani.


Collection of books and pamphlets gathered by Gustav Groeber, Professor of Romance Philology at the University of Strassburg (1844-1911). This is a strong collection of books bearing on the Romance languages and literature; particularly rich in linguistics and in Provencal and Italian literature. Pamphlets include practically every brochure published in Germany on Romance topics. Also contains approximately 6,400 volumes.

Click here for the Groeber Collection finding aid.

Literatures in English describe the wide array of literary materials, such as poetry, fiction, and literary essays and criticism, created predominantly by American, English, Scottish, and Irish authors. Notable holdings include early editions of works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and many others.

American Literature, Politics & History

Under Construction

CHARLES EVANS PAPERS, 1869-1935, 3.0 cu. ft.

Papers of Charles Evans (1850-1935), librarian, bibliographer and author of American Bibliography, 1639-1820; his wife, Lena Y. Evans; and his sons Charles “Chick” Evans, Jr., Eliot H. Evans and John Evans. Includes letters, scrapbooks, bankbooks, published and unpublished literary and scholarly manuscripts, manuscript speeches, ledger books, personal documents, notes and photographs relating to the preparation of American Bibliography, and works for the American Antiquarian Society and the Bibliographical Society of America.

American Wit & Humor

Under Construction


Collection of noted Chicago bookseller Franklin J. Meine (1896-1968) concerning Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) including letters and clippings. Supporting collections in American Wit and Humor and the Mississippi Valley region, and regional American Humor, and the Robert B. Downs Collection of American Wit and Humor. The collection contains approximately 9,000 volumes.

British Literature, Politics & History

Under Construction


The John Milton (1608–1674) 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.


Lloyd F. Nickell (1884–1962), 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.

Scottish & Irish Cultural History

Under Construction


This extensive library of noted Irish book collector James Collins (1840–1916) 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.


Frederic Ferguson (1878–1967), 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.


Perhaps the only Alexander Smith (1830?–1867) 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.

The mathematics collection is ranked among the three most significant in the United States and includes a near comprehensive collection of early Euclids, and first editions of many of the pioneers in the field.

Clay tablets, papyrus, medieval illuminated manuscripts, early modern codices and other hand-written documents covering subjects such as religion, music, literature and history. Particular strengths lie in English manuscripts (in English and Latin), pedagogical texts, books of hours, literary texts, and political documents from 1250 to 1600.

Under Construction

Japanese Literature & Culture

The Yamagiwa Collection consists of material dating from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The 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 International & Area Studies Library and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. 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).

Our notable literary collections include significant archival holdings of major writers, and with certain writers their personal libraries and documented realia as well.


This collection consists of a variety of materials related to Gwendolyn Brooks, an American poet from Chicago, Illinois. Brooks was an American poet, author and educator. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, and raised on the Southside of Chicago, much of Brooks' work focuses on the daily lives of ordinary Black people in her community. In 1950, she became the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and later, Poet Laureate of Illinois and Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress. She was active in the Chicago Black Arts movement of the 1960s, eventually leaving mainstream publishers to work exclusively with Black-owned presses. Her papers include extensive correspondence with many authors and influential people such as Haki Madhubuti, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and Beryl Zitch, in addition to early poetry, scrapbooks, manuscript drafts and proofs, speech drafts, recordings of speeches and readings, newspaper and magazine clippings, as well as submissions to the Illinois Poet Laureate Awards, which she founded in 1969.

Brooks Collection Archon Record

Brooks Collection in the Digital Library


The “Connemara Transfer” of the Carl Sandburg papers (1898-1962, 125.0 cu. ft) includes typescripts and corrected galley proofs of Sandburg’s works and correspondence (1916-62) with literary and public figures, scholars and admirers about writing, American folk songs, Abraham Lincoln, journalism and lecture tours. The collection also contains a Spanish-American War diary (1898), lectures (1908- 09), recordings and transcriptions of Sandburg’s radio broadcasts and lectures and magazine articles and newspaper clippings by and about him. The papers also include Lombard College publications (1898-1902), material concerning the Chicago Daily News (1917-32) and a supporting book collection of approximately 5,000 volumes. The “Asheville Transfer” is the most recent addition to the Sandburg collection, obtained in 1996 upon the death of Margaret Sandburg, the eldest daughter of Carl and Paula Sandburg. This collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, clippings, books, documents, and miscellaneous material belonging to Margaret and related to her life as her father’s reference librarian. Also included in this collection is the Encyclopedia Sandburgiana, a scrapbook of photographs, clippings and correspondence kept by Margaret about her father’s life, arranged chronologically by year.

H.G. WELLS PAPERS, 81.5 cu. ft.

Papers of Herbert G. Wells, English novelist and essayist. Includes correspondence about business and legal affairs; letters to the press; diaries, journals, drawings, publication records, manuscripts and proofs of published works; speeches; unpublished material; photographs.

Search the H.G. Wells Correspondence databases.

Drama & Theater History

The Library holdings are strong and deep in Elizabethan and Stuart drama, from the First Folio to Beaumont and Fletcher, Shakespeare and his contemporaries are well represented. In addition, the library holds collections of playbills, actors portraits, Italian drama, Neo-Latin drama, and Spanish plays.

Motley Collection

The Motley Collection contains costume plates, scene design renderings, production plans and notes of the celebrated British theater design team, “Motley.” The collection contains more than 5,000 items from 104 productions performed from the 1930s to 1960s.

Search the Motley Collection finding aids.

Click here to find digital images of the collection.


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.


Under Construction

Works of philosophy and ethics in our collections are heavily weighted towards early printings of texts by classical authors such as Aristotle, Epicurus, Confucius, and first or early editions of Enlightenment era philosophers such as Kant and Rousseau, among others.

Our Publishing History collections document several notable publishing firms, including the records of G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Richard Bentley & Son. The Fine Press collection holds many examples of 19th and 20th century fine letterpress printing from such workshops as the Kelmscott Press, Arion Press, and numerous others, while Artists’ Books encompass various works by past and living artists.


The files of Richard Bentley and Son (1806-1915) a London publishing house, 1829-1898: Richard Bentley, 1794-1871; George Bentley, 1828-1895 and Richard Bentley II, 1854-1936. Includes literary and business correspondence; ledgers, minutes of company meetings and legal agreements; personal and business diaries; authors’ manuscripts; clippings and advertisements relating to literary, legal and business matters; the Henry Colburn publishing firm (1806-35), subscription and publication lists. Correspondents are listed in Gordon N. Ray, “The Bentley Papers” in The Library, 5:7:3: 178-200 (September 1952). The collection has been microfilmed Chadwick-Healey.

Click here for the bibliographic record for Index to the Archives of Richard Bentley & Son, 1829-1898.


Collection of Charles E. Mudie (1818-1890), English collector and proprietor of “Mudie’s Circulating Libraries.” Includes letters, photographs, broadsides, passports and a travel diary (1859), regarding subscriptions to the Circulating Library, nineteenth–century books, the book trade, British politics, Italian unification, European travel, opening of “Mudie’s Great Hall” in 1860, literary matters, family genealogy and personal matters.


Papers of Grant Richards (1872-1936), British publisher and author. Includes correspondence; incomplete typescripts of novels and other personal papers; advertisements; book reviews; photographs; account books; early agreements, 1905-1920; publication ledger, 1897-1902; and author agreements, 1906-1930 relating to routine publishing house business, copyright problems and other legal and literary matters.

Materials in these collections emphasize the expression and suppression of free speech, particularly in the most radical groups of political activity.

EWING C. BASKETTE COLLECTION, 1894-1959, 1.5 cu. ft.

Papers of Ewing C. Baskette (1903-1959), lawyer, librarian, and bibliographer. Includes speeches, letters, and manuscripts on cases dealing with anarchism, the “Centralia Massacre,” communal living, syndicalism, socialism, the International Workers of the World, freedom of expression and censorship. A supporting book collection on censorship and intellectual freedom contains approximately 10,000 volumes.


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 William Cobbett (1763–1835) 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.

RBML houses numerous reference works for the use of staff and patrons. Such resources include both scholarly publications and in-house compilations of materials that relate to historical accessions and finding aids.

Holdings in Religions & Spirituality include first editions of most of the church fathers and mothers, early Bibles, English Sermons, prayer books, Books of Hours, Christian Hebraism, and early theological dissertations, as well as religious plays, and American Civil War religious tracts.

Disciplines heavily represented in our Social Sciences collections include economics, education, geography, history, and political science. The vast majority of these are early modern editions with some nineteenth- and twentieth-century contributions.

The Spanish Civil War collection is a compilation of material documenting the U.S. literary and military involvement in Spain’s fight against fascism. Emphasized are the American writers who participated in and reported the events and who interpreted their experiences through poetry, prose, and art. The collection comprises about 20 subcategories focused on members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, including: Edwin Rolfe, Milton Wolff, John Tisa, Frank Lister, Milton Felson, and John Gates. It includes books, broadsides, clippings, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, serials, and miscellaneous items relating the experiences of American volunteers in Spain. The collection contains many references to the cultural and political context in which the Americans were placed, including posters and propaganda material. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Baskette Collection contains other examples of political activism and freedom of expression issues related to the Spanish Civil War.

Emphasizes 16th & 17th century literature and history (complementing our British materials from the same period). Over 1,000 items in classical languages printed in Spain, works in the Spanish language printed outside Spain, and works written by Spanish authors.

This collection consists of materials used in RBML’s teaching and outreach programming, with an emphasis on items that can be safely touched and used. These include facsimiles of materials held both in RBML and elsewhere; modern boardgames for actual play; and items that can be used for creative works such as quills and ink, etc.

Travel literature encompasses travelogues, nature writing, guide books and other first hand narratives, and adventure literature. The majority of these holdings are from the European perspective, sometimes with a colonialist bent. It is worth keeping in mind that while some of these volumes are notable primary sources in literature and history, their historical accuracy can sometimes be dubious or debatable at best, and as such novice readers will want to consult them in tandem with more recent scholarship. Particular strengths in this collection include early print editions of volumes of exploration and natural history, as well as early accounts of travel to the Americas, the East, and the Arctic.