Cataloged Book Collections

This list includes all the RBML collections cataloged according to printed book rules. Several of these collections, in fact, contain bound volumes of manuscript materials. Click on the item or scroll down for collection descriptions.

"B" - General Rare Book Collection

Our general book collection, by far the largest single group of books in RBML, contains over 100,000 books on almost all subjects. Before about 1979, this collection was classified in the Dewey scheme preceded by "B" (e.g., B823 Sh24). Items added after the switch are given Library of Congress call numbers. Records for books cataloged before 1979 are in the card catalog; books cataloged after 1979 are in CLIO.

The "B" collection is particularly strong in British and American literature and history, including a large group of nineteenth-century gift books. Other strong areas include editions of Greek & Roman authors, cometology, and polar exploration (thanks to Bassett Jones's Libris Polaris collection).

Park Benjamin Collection

William Evarts Benjamin, son of Park Benjamin (1809-1864), poet, editor and newspaperman, presented this collection of about 4,200 volumes to the Libraries in 1940. It is composed of New York imprints published between 1840 and 1865. Also in the collection are a number of issues of the "Mammoth" newspapers and others with which Park Benjamin was associated. The books are classified in Dewey. Records for this collection are found in the card catalog.

Berlioz Collection

A collection of 500 books about Hector Berlioz and his time, given to the library by Jacques Barzun in the 1950s. Records for this collection are found in the card catalog; the collection is classed in Dewey.

Book Arts Collection

The Book Arts Collection is both a major collection of examples of fine printing and book illustration, and a collection of books about various phases of bookmaking and related subjects. The collection of type specimens is one of the best in this country. Book Arts was established in 1938, and contains over 15,000 volumes. The older part of the collection is shelved in Dewey classification. In 1975, we switched to a slightly-modified Library of Congress classification.

Users of the collection should rely on both the card and online catalog to find materials. In addition to the catalog records, there are separate card files of printers, illustrators, and designers, and a very selective file listing books under various types of printing technique, illustrative processes, bindings, etc. Please ask RBML reference staff for help in finding particular types of books.

Dale Library

This library of about 1,200 volumes and 700 pamphlets traces the development of standard measures in all countries and over all periods. Samuel S. Dale presented the collection in memory of his parents Thomas and Fanny Dale in 1930. Records for this collection are found in the card catalog; the collection is not classed, but is arranged by author & title. Some of the pamphlets in the pamphlet volumes are not cataloged; there is a partial list.

Dramatic Library

The collection of about 5,000 volumes is particularly strong in English and American drama and in Molière. Records for the books are found in the card catalog; the books are classed with a Dewey call number preceded by a "D."

Dramatic Museum and Library Subject guide contains additional information about this and other collections (including manuscripts, ephemera, and realia) which RBML inherited from The Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum.

Epstean Collection

The Epstean collection on the history and science of photography was presented to the libraries in 1932 by Edward Epstean and his son, Clarence. It is composed of some 3,000 volumes and deals chiefly with the development of photography and the photochemical processes up to 1910. The collection is classified in Dewey to follow the Book Arts Collection to which it is closely related. Books are found in the card catalogue.

Although the collection covers the general field of photography, it is particularly rich in the more specialized fields of photochemical processes or reproduction, printing processes, color and orthochromatic photography, and the chemistry of the subject, reflecting the interests of Edward Epstean, a successful photoengraver. More about the collection can be found in the catalogs of his collection published by Columbia in the 1930s.

Graphic Arts

The Graphic Arts collection contains over 20,000 books on the history of printing and publishing, and related topics such as illustrative techniques, bookbinding, calligraphy, and book collecting. It thus overlaps significantly with the Book Arts Collection, though the books tend to be newer (post-1850). Created in the 1950s within the Library Service Library to serve the needs of library school students learning about the history of the book, the collection was transferred to RBML in 1991 when the library school was closed. The books, classed in the Library of Congress system, are found in CLIO.

Historical Collection of Children's Literature (HCCL or HISTCHIL)

The collection contains approximately 8,000 books and 450 periodical titles primarily in English, and most printed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The core of the collection came to Columbia in 1926 with the New York State Library School. The collection was transferred to Rare Books in 1977. The collection includes the Velma V. Varner Collection, the Bertha Gunterman Collection, the Mabel Louise Robinson Collection, and a group of books owned in his childhood by former mayor John Purroy Mitchell (1879-1918). Books cataloged before 1975 were not classed, but arranged alphabetically by author and title. Periodicals are classed separately. There are many interesting children’s books not yet cataloged, including books in series and a sizeable collection of books by the McLoughlin Brothers.

Holland Society Collection

This collection is on deposit from the Holland Society Library. It is mainly early Dutch books, especially editions of Grotius. It is classified in Dewey with the letter "H" preceding the call number and is indexed in the card catalog.

Bronson Howard Collection

These books deal with the many phases of the art of the theater and biographies of theatrical people as well as the plays themselves. The Collection was first presented to the American Dramatist's Club, and from them came into possession of the Libraries. Only part of the library is in RBML, the rest having been catalogued for the General Library stacks. The books in RBML are classified in the Dewey scheme without any distinguishing departmental marks and are found in the card catalog.


Incunabula (books printed before 1501) from the various book collections have been shelved together by Goff number, the number assigned in Fredrick Goff’s bibliography, Incunabula in American Libraries. There is a separate card catalog by author in RBML. Records for these titles derived from the ISTC (Incunabula Short Title Catalog) are found in CLIO; however they lack subject and other added entries.

Incunabula Catalogs

Catalogues of incunabula collections in other institutions are classified in Book Arts (019.19) but shelved separately and treated as reference books.

Jeanne d’Arc (Griscom Collection)

The gift of Acton Griscom established this collection around 1920. It consists of just under 2,000 volumes on Joan of Arc, and related background material. It is one of the outstanding collections in its field in the world. The books are classified in a special scheme devised for this collection: J1 for Biography, J2 for Trial and Death, etc. Under each classification the books are alphabetized by author. All these books are in the card catalog and are found in the General Library card catalog under the subject “Jeanne d'Arc.” The collection includes several fifteenth and sixteenth century manuscripts.

Samuel Johnson & William Samuel Johnson Libraries

The libraries of Samuel Johnson, first President of King's College (Columbia University) and his son William Samuel Johnson, third President, containing just under 3,000 volumes, are classified together in Dewey with call numbers preceded by the letter "K" or "BK". Manuscripts are recorded in the autograph letter file and manuscript catalog.

The James Kent Library

The Kent collection consists of about 1,500 books, largely from the library of James Kent (1763-1847), Chancellor of the State of New York and first professor of law at Columbia College, and includes some books from his descendants. Many of his 3,000 legal books can be found in Special Collections at Columbia’s Law Library, and the New York State Law Library in Albany. RBML holds his non-legal books, most of which contain clippings and notes on the flyleaves. The Dictionary of American Biography quotes Kent as writing in 1828, "Next to my wife, my library has been the source of my greatest pleasure and devoted attachment." Kent’s manuscript catalog of his library (1842-1845) can be found in the Kent Family Papers. The books were acquired by Columbia over time, and some of them were cataloged for various library collections in decades past. This group is cataloged in CLIO.

Kilroe Collection of Tammaniana

This collection, which deals with the history and activities of the Society of Tammany, or Columbian Order in the City of New York (popularly known as Tammany Hall), consists of about 2,500 volumes. In addition to printed works, the collection includes many volumes of clippings about Tammany Hall assembled by Kilroe; these have been microfilmed. A special Kilroe classification scheme organizes the books by date of publication; there is a separate series of periodicals. Found in the card catalog. See the Kilroe Collection Guide to appreciate the full scope of Mr. Kilroe’s collecting in this subject.

Gonzalez Lodge Collection

The Lodge collection of editions of classical authors (Greek and Roman) contains over 5,000 volumes dating from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries. There is a special group of Plautus & Terence material. The gift of Gonzalez Lodge came in 1944, and subsequent purchases have been made with the Lodge fund. The Lodge classification scheme arranges the books chronologically by date of publication. Check both the card and online catalogs for these volumes.

Macy Memorial (Limited Editions Club)

The Macy Collection of approximately 750 volumes includes every book published by the Limited Editions Club through 1981. The books were donated to the library by George Macy, founder and director of the LEC, and his wife Mrs. Helen Macy, who continued the collection after her husband’s death in 1956. Found in the card catalog.

Manuscript Catalogs

The collection of circa 5,000 manuscript catalogs, mostly catalogs of Medieval and Renaissance Greek and Latin manuscripts in libraries around the world, as well as of archival collections in the United States, is shelved as a browsable reference collection in public areas within RBML.

The classification scheme largely arranges the catalogs by the country, city and library the catalog represents. Check both the card and the online catalogs for these works.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Nearly 1,000 volumes relating to Mary, Queen of Scots, given to the University in 1889 by General J. Watts de Peyster. This collection, like the Jeanne d’Arc collection, has a special classification with the identifying letter "M" prefixed to the call number. Records for the books and manuscripts are found in the card catalog.

Montgomery Library of Accountancy

A thousand printed volumes of works on accountancy, mostly how-to guides, from the first printed work on accounting (a portion of the Summa arithmetica of Luca Pacioli, 1494) to the early twentieth century, a gift in 1924 from Robert H. Montgomery, Professor of Accounting at the School of Business. The collection was formally transferred to Rare Books from the Business Library in 1974, although it had been on deposit here prior to 1960. In order to document the history of accounting practices, Montgomery collected both these printed works and a large collection of manuscripts, which RBML has divided into two groups by format: bound manuscripts dating from ca. 1300 through 1941, called the Montgomery Accountancy Manuscripts and loose manuscripts, dating from ca. 1600 through 1945, found in the Montgomery Business Papers.


The pamphlet collection consists of some 700 bound volumes of pamphlets, mostly English, Irish and French literature and history, transferred from the General Library. Each pamphlet is cataloged in CLIO.

As of 2006, there are still a large number of volumes in which some of the contents are waiting to be cataloged (their uncataloged status discovered during the transfer process). The collection incorporates the “General Library Deposit” of pamphlet volumes held by RBML for many years when the transfer project started.

Phoenix Collection

This collection of over 8,000 volumes, the bequest of Stephen Whitney Phoenix (1881), was the first major donation of rare books given to Columbia College. It was Mr. Phoenix's library and as such contains books on a variety of subjects. The collection is rich in nineteenth century illustrated books and books on travel, emblem books, geography, natural history, and literature, including a Shakespeare First Folio (1623). The collection is catalogued in the Dewey scheme with the letters "P" or "BP" preceding the call number. The books are found in the card catalog.

George Arthur Plimpton Library

The Plimpton Library of 16,000 volumes covers what the collector called "our tools of learning” from the fifteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. The cataloged books are indexed in the card catalog. There are a good number of uncataloged books, which are classed in Dewey, and findable through a shelflist and an author catalog.

The collection is particularly strong in the "liberal arts" - grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, geography, astronomy. Many of the arithmetics, one of the great collections of sixteenth century arithmetics in the world, are described in D.E. Smith's Rara Arithmetica. The collection of handwriting manuals is one of the finest anywhere.

Plimpton Collections subject guide contains additional information about our Plimpton collections, which include medieval and renaissance manuscripts, Arabic manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, and hornbooks.

Reference Collection

Over 3,000 volumes of reference books, cataloged online and classed in the Library of Congress system.

Sale Catalogs

A large number of catalogs from book dealers and auction houses, all relating to books and manuscripts. These are now (2008) in the process of being cataloged and sent off-site.

Seligman Library

The Seligman Library of 35,000 volumes covers the subjects of economics and political science from the earliest printed books to the 1920s. Renowned for its books on economics and banking, the collection includes the library of American finance formed by Albert Bolles between 1830 and 1880, all of the works written by Alexander Hamilton, and over one thousand broadsides.

The books were purchased by Columbia University in 1929 and 1942 from the collection of Professor E. R. A. Seligman (1861-1939). The Seligman classification scheme arranged the materials in chronological order, subdivided by country of publication. Search for these books in both the card and online catalogs. There is some uncataloged material, including a collection of ca. 400 pamphlets related to Chartism collected by Francis Place (1771-1854), and the Oastler collection, ca. 109 pamphlets collected by Richard Oastler (1789-1861), an English advocate of factory reform.

Slavic & Eastern European Collection (SEEC)

SEEC was created by a grant project to catalog the most interesting of the printed materials found in the manuscript collections of the Bakhmeteff Archive (BAR). The items are given accession numbers (e.g., SEEC 1056); a “gb” following the accession number indicates that the item is housed in a folder in a gray box (e.g., SEEC 1056gb). There are now (2008) over 200 items, all cataloged in CLIO. The original list of printed materials in the BAR (which includes many items not yet added to SEEC) can be found at the RBML reference desk.

David Eugene Smith Library

Donated in 1931, and augmented by books bought with the Smith Fund, the Smith library contains over 13,000 books mainly in the fields of mathematics and astronomy from the eleventh century to the early decades of the twentieth century. Search for these books in both the card and online catalogs.

Professor Smith collected the history of mathematics irregardless of format and language; Collections subject guide contains additional information about the Smith Collection on the History of Mathematics.

Spinoza Collection

This collection of 3,933 volumes is formed from the union of the Spinoza collections of Adolph S. Oko and Carl Gebhardt, and contains material by and about Baruch Spinoza. Purchased and presented to the University by Dr. Simon L. Millner, Mrs. T.W. Lamont, Corliss Lamont, and Mr. E.A. Zabriskie, 1947. Described in the card catalog.

University Archives

See the University Archives page for more information about their collection of books relating to Columbia, including Columbia dissertations and master’s essays.

Witmark Collection of Autographed Books & Musical Scores

In 1941, Isador Witmark, noted musical publisher, bequeathed to the Libraries his collection of about 400 books and musical scores, each autographed by the author, a musical artist or a friend. They are classified in a special call number scheme designated by "BW." These items are found in the card catalog.

"X" Manuscripts

The first manuscripts collected at Columbia, these 2,350 volumes of manuscript books and bound volumes of letters were classified in the regular classification scheme (Dewey) with the call number preceded by the letter "X". They were cataloged by printed book rules into the main card catalog. Cards are found in RBML in the correspondence and manuscript card files, as well as the "X" shelflist.

The collection is made up of manuscripts on all subjects, in many languages, from the medieval period through the twentieth century, and includes many of our greatest treasures, such two diaries of George Washington and a Sigmund Freud manuscript. The largest group is the approximately 1,000 volumes of Hebrew manuscripts. More information about this and other codex manuscript collections.