Rare Books

Rare Books

Rare Books includes books that are especially important because of their historical or literary significance, age, scarcity, or value. The collections also include literary manuscripts, rare posters and maps, and collections of books by or about particular authors or subjects in the sciences, literature, history, popular culture, and the history of books and printing.

Among many other treasures, the Rare Books department holds:

  • illuminated manuscripts dating back to 1150,
  • a 1632 copy of Galileo's Dialogo di Galileo Galilei Linceo,
  • the original charter for Louisville, Kentucky signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1780, and
  • a signed copy of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

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Featured Collections

Mathematics and Astronomy: The William Marshall Bullitt Collection

Rare first editions of key publications in the history of science, including works by Gauss, Copernicus, Newton, (with annotations in the hand of the author), Euclid and Kepler.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Nell Dismukes McWhorter Memorial Collection

The world's largest institutional collection of works by the creator of "Tarzan," including all appearances in print, posters, film and videotape, manuscripts and memorabilia.


Books, manuscripts and ephemera documenting the cultural development of our city. The Rare Books Department is the repository for the original charter of the City of Louisville. The charter bears the signature of Thomas Jefferson.

The Irish Literary Renaissance: The Richard Morgan Kain Library

The working collection of the noted James Joyce scholar, including first editions, manuscripts, periodicals and ephemera. The emphasis of the collection is on the work of Joyce , William Butler Yeats and other writers of the Irish literary renaissance. Extensive material on history and politics supports the literary collection.

Modern Literature: The Barry Bingham, Sr. Collection

First editions and manuscripts of leading British and American modern writers, with special emphasis on the aesthetic literature of the nineties and on the Bloomsbury Group. Writers include E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Sackville-West and the later writers such as Eliot and Pound.

Historical Collections

Books, prints, documents and more than 1,500 posters from the nations involved in World War I; Roger Manvell's books and manuscripts on the history of the Third Reich and on the history of the theater and film; Phillip Lemont Barbour's working collection of books, maps, and documents which led to his definitive work on John Smith and colonial Virginia.

Literary Collections

First editions and supporting material of authors including Graham Greene,Lawrence Durrell, Isak Dinesen, and Mary Hunter Austin. The

Diane Di Prima collection includes literary and personal manuscripts.

Children's Literature and Illustrated Books

Editions, research materials and memorabilia, particularly of L. Frank Baum,author of The Wizard of Oz, Annie Fellows Johnston's works, including her "Little Colonel" stories and original drawings and a comprehensive collection of the printed work of illustrator Arthur Rackham.

History of Books and Printing

Incunabula, including a leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, examples of fine printing by masters from the fifteenth through twentieth centuries, including Erhard Ratdolt, John Baskerville, William Morris and Victor Hammer. There are extensive collections of Thomas Bird Mosher, Elbert Hubbard's Roycrofters Press, and Limited Editions Club publications, along with cultural monuments such as first editions of Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie,Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language and the Fourth Folio of the works of Shakespeare.


In addition to manuscripts held as part of special collections, representative manuscripts of many literary figures are available. Letters of Samuel Clemens, Harriet Martineau, and George Ade, among others, provide special research opportunities for students. Extensive collections of poet Hortense Flexner, Beat poet and feminist writer Diane di Prima, and writer Abby Meguire Roach are here along with papers of Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart, on permanent loan from the Stuart Foundation.

Popular Culture

Dime Novels, American humor of the 19th and 20th centuries and extensive runs of American pulp magazines.


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