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Highlights of the Rare Book Collections
A guide to some of the significant book holdings in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
Amherst College holds a notable collection of published works by Native American Indian authors. In addition to the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection, we hold books collected by Joseph Bruchac and others. We are activily adding materials in this area. A selection of the books in the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg collection have been digitized and are available on the Amherst College Digital Collections site.
The strong literary manuscript holdings in Archives and Special Collections are joined by a number of complementary book collections. In addition to the collections listed below, the College has significant holdings of books by Louise Bogan, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Thom Gunn, Rolfe Humphries, Sarah Orne Jewett, Eugene O'Neill, Dave Smith, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, and Tennessee Williams. See also the Authors Collection in the Rare Book Room Classification.
We have extensive holdings of books by and about Robert Frost, including first editions, association copies, anthologies, translations, and biographical/critical works. These volumes complement Amherst's Robert Frost Collection, which includes manuscripts, correspondence and a substantial number of audio recordings of the poet. For information on some of our copies of Frost's books, see: Books by Robert Frost in the Archives.
Amherst has a major and growing collection of books, periodicals and recordings by or about poet Richard Wilbur, class of 1942.
In addition to holding roughly half the known manuscripts by Emily Dickinson and much of the early publication history, Amherst has an extensive collection of published editions of Dickinson's work, along with books about and inspired by Dickinson. Also notable are books previously owned, or believed to be owned, by Dickinson. See our Emily Dickinson at Amherst College page for additional information.
A major collection of books by and about William Wordsworth. Books in this collection were published between 1793 and circa 1935. Most of the collection came from the library of Cornelius H. Patton, Class of 1883, and author of the Wordsworth Descriptive Bibliography. Amherst College also holds the manuscripts of 14 sonnets, which were donated by Mrs. Marie H. Clemens as a memorial to her husband, Dr. James Brentano Clemens. Archives and Special Collections also holds significant Wordsworth works outside of the formal Wordsworth Collection, additional items may be found using the library's online catalog.
Books published by Noah Webster during his lifetime and books given by Noah Webster to the Amherst College Library. Also of interest are the Noah Webster Family Papers and a recent exhibition celebrating the 250th anniversary of Noah Webster's birth.
Archives and Special Collections has particularly rich holdings in the areas of Natural History, Earth Sciences, Nature and Outdoorsmanship. Areas of strength outside of formal collections include hiking, the White Mountains and the short-lived field of phrenology. Of note are the numerous publications of eminent geologist and College President Edward Hitchcock (see also the Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Papers). Among the most outstanding volumes in the collection are complete sets of John J. Audubon's double-elephant folio The Birds of America and the Quadrupeds of North America.
A remarkable and extensive collection of books about birds, with particular attention to the various techniques that have been used to reproduce illustrations of birds. Richard Soffer's extensive notes on each of the volumes in his collection is available here. Many of the books in this collection await cataloging.
Charles M. Pratt Lepidoptera Collection
A notable collection of books about butterflies, comprised of 1400 volumes on all aspects of the subject. The collection includes old and rare books, volumes or reprints and a considerable amount of general material. The majority of the books in the collection were rebound in three-quarter dark green leather with small colored butterflies on the spine. Some contain illustrations of unusual beauty, and some contain bookplates showing them to have been once in the libraries of renowned entomologists. The books in this collection are not presently listed in the library catalog; a card index is available in Archives and Special Collections.
Frederick Lane, Class of 1936, Angling Collection
One of the most comprehensive collections of angling literature, comprised of approximately 2200 books donated by Frederick Lane, Class of 1936. The bulk of the collection focuses on fly fishing, but in addition to angling books, the collection also includes a number of books on fish in general, natural history and outdoorsmanship. Tyler S. Wick, Class of 1992, wrote an article on the Lane Angling Collection in the 1993-94 Newsletter of the Friends of the Amherst College Library. The books in this collection can be found in the library catalog.
Amherst has particularly strong theatrical holdings. In addition to the two collections listed below is the William Britton Stitt (Class of 1918) Eugene O'Neill Collection. Notable are a bound set of Lacy's editions, one of the most complete in existence; the manuscripts and promptbooks of Augustin Daly; and the Plimpton Collection of Dramas, composed of around 1400 plays from early nineteenth century theater in America and Britain. These collections are augmented by the extensive archive of Amherst College theatrics in the Dramatic Activities Collection.
This collection is comprised chiefly of the acting editions published by the firm of Samuel French, Inc. The collection was founded by M. Abbott Van Nostrand, Class of 1934 and President of Samuel French, Inc. from 1952 until 1990. Mr. Van Nostrand added to the collection continually during his tenure as president, as his successor continues to do. The collection now numbers more than 30,000 plays. The focus of the collection is on acting editions, designed for use in amateur or local productions, which include extensive stage directions, notes on set design and costumes, and often photographs or set diagrams. Additional unpublished material, including unpublished typescripts and the music holdings and theater scrapbooks of the company, are also available. Plays from the collection may not be photocopied.
The library of Clyde Fitch, Class of 1886, a renowned playwright was originally donated to the College after his death in 1909 along with the contents of his personal study and his personal papers. The Clyde Fitch Room in Converse Memorial Library recreated his personal study for many years; now Fitch's books, manuscripts and furnishings are housed in Archives and Special Collections. Complementary collections in Archives and Special Collections include the W. Clyde Fitch (AC 1886) Collection (personal papers) and the Object Collection (housing the objects from the Clyde Fitch Room). Special Collections Curator John Lancaster wrote an article on Clyde Fitch in the 1983 Newsletter of the Friends of the Amherst College Library.
In addition to the collections listed below, the Archives and Special Collections holds substantial runs of "Harper's Weekly" and "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper." Also notable are first editions of Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, and Charles Dickens, including the original unbound installments of Bleak House and Little Dorritt, and a first edition, first state Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
Bernhard Tauchnitz Collection
A representative but incomplete collection of the "Collection of British and American Authors," a reprint series published in Leipzig, Germany by the firm of Bernhard Tauchnitz from 1841 to 1939. The series was a familiar source of popular reading for English-speaking travelers on the continent of Europe throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These inexpensive paperbound editions, a direct precursor to mass-market paperbacks, eventually ran to over 5,000 volumes.
Haldeman-Julius "Little Blue Books" Collection
A representative but incomplete collection of the once popular “Little Blue Books,” a series of small, very inexpensive staple-bound books that were published by the Haldeman-Julius Publishing Company of Girard, Kansas between 1919 and 1978. They were the project of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951), a socialist reformer and newspaper publisher. The books were extremely popular across the widest possible range of American readers, both educated, sophisticated readers as well as (and more notably) the little-educated working class who could otherwise not afford to read literature. The works covered include many classics of Western literature, but also practical how-to manuals and frank writings on controversial or emergent social themes such as homosexuality and atheism. Works of philosophy and politics are also represented, including tracts written by Haldeman-Julius himself. The name of the series changed over the first few years, known as the People's Pocket Series, the Appeal Pocket Series and the Ten Cent Pocket Series, before finally attaining the name that persisted, Little Blue Books.
More than 300 of the books for young readers published in the mid-nineteenth century under the pseudonym "Peter Parley," mostly authored by Samuel Griswold Goodrich. Additional material can be found in the Samuel G. Goodrich Collection. John Lancaster wrote an article on the collection was published in the 1982 Newsletter of the Friends of the Amherst College Library.
This collection comprises the books listed in the first printed catalog of the college library, published in 1827.
Manuscripts bound in book format. Amherst holds 24 codex manuscripts.
Books printed before 1501. Amherst holds 30 incunabula.
A collection of Greek letter printing presented to the library by Professor Harry DeForest Smith upon his retirement in 1939. Includes a broad representation of the various styles of Greek letter printing.
Supplementing a large collection in the Library's open stacks of so-called "multiples" -- low-end, mass-produced artists books from the 1960's onward-- Archives and Special Collections has a small batch of rarer, more elaborate, and delicate bookworks. Special strengths include pioneering works of visual literature, especially material related to the Fluxus movement and one of its eminent participants, Geoff Hendricks, Class of 1953. This collection is complemented by the Marshall Bloom (AC 1966) Alternative Press Collection, comprised mainly of alternative "underground" newspapers from the same period.
Charles M. Adams '29 Southern Appalachian Collection
The bulk of this collection is made up of books about the Southern Appalachian region -- its history, culture, economics, and perhaps most of all its physical features and the beauty of the mountains. Regional literature also plays a significant role in the collection including holdings of writers such as "Charles Egbert Craddock" (pseudonym of Mary Noailles Murfree), Olive Tilford Dargan, James Lane Allen, and John Fox, Jr.
Health, Hygiene and Physical Education
Amherst College was one of the first in the nation to have a formal physical education program. For many years the Physical Education and Hygiene department was run by Doctor Edward Hitchcock, Jr. The Archives and Special Collections holds a large quantity of books and pamphlets from his personal and departmental libraries. The books and pamphlets cover a wide variety of athletic, health and lifestyle subjects from the 1850s to 1900s. Related manuscript collections include the Edward (AC1849) and Mary Judson Hitchcock Family Papers and the Department of Physical Education and Hygiene Records.