UC Berkeley Library

Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts

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About the Rare Book Collection

The University Library's Rare Book Collection was founded in 1954 and transferred to The Bancroft Library in 1970. It is responsible for collecting, preserving, and making accessible old, rare, fragile, and sensitive materials on a wide range of subjects. As a rule, the Rare Book Collection avoids the subject areas of law, medicine, music, and East Asian languages, since other campus libraries specialize in these areas.

Overview of Rare Collections

Medieval Manuscripts

Bancroft houses about 300 codices and hundreds of paleographical specimens dating from circa 1000 C.E. to 1600. Of particular note are the French vernacular romances of the 14th and 15th centuries. Representative images from BANC MSS UCB 001 through 177 are available at Digital Scriptorium.

Incunabula

The library has more than 400 books from the 15th century, including classical, historical, literary, and scientific works. Notable among them are copies of the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle in both Latin and German and Euclid’s Elementa Geometriae from 1482. The library’s earliest printed book dates to 1466.

Fernán-Nuñéz Collection

This collection includes 225 manuscript volumes, circa 1490-1800, from the archives of the Dukes of Fernán-Nuñéz (south of Córdoba in southern Spain). It comprises literary, political, diplomatic, and historical texts.

Classical Authors

Bancroft has very strong collections of classical texts printed in the 15th-18th centuries. Of these, the most comprehensive is the Horace collection, featuring hundreds of editions of the author's works, commentaries on them, and translations into most Western languages. The collection of Aldine editions is particularly noteworthy.

Renaissance Books

Sixteenth- and early 17th-century holdings are especially strong in Italian and Spanish, with significant collections of French and German imprints. There are fine examples of the works of Erasmus, Luther, the Italian humanists, and productions of the scholar printers, e.g. Aldus Manutius, the Estiennes, Johann Froben, and Christophe Plantin.

English Literature

The library holds a wide range of material in this field, including all four Shakespeare folios as well as early editions of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, and other medieval, Elizabethan, and Jacobean writers.

The John Milton Collection is particularly strong and includes nearly all the variants of the first edition of Paradise Lost.

There are also important collections of certain 18th-century authors, the Romantics, and selected contemporary writers.

The library's strongest collections of 19th- and 20th-century authors include the works of William Blake, Lord Byron, Joseph Conrad, Walter de la Mare, Charles Dickens, Norman Douglas, H. Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, John Mortimer, Sean O'Faolain, the Rossettis, Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Stephen Spender, Tom Stoppard, H. G. Wells, and William Butler Yeats. Manuscripts of many of these authors are also held by the library.

American Literature

The library is especially strong in writers identified with California, e.g. Gertrude Atherton, Mary Austin, William Everson, Bret Harte, Robinson Jeffers, Jack London, Frank Norris, George Sterling, and William Saroyan.

There are important collections of other American authors, including Richard Brautigan, Willa Cather, T. S. Eliot, Faulkner, Frost, Julian and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sidney Howard, William Dean Howells, Henry James, William McFee, Wright Morris, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Thornton Wilder, William Carlos Williams, and Harry Leon Wilson.

History of Science

Bancroft holds many important first editions and other works in the history of science. Visit the page on our History of Science and Technology Collections to learn more.

History of Books and Printing

The library is keenly interested in documenting the history of books and printing. The collection includes important examples of printing techniques and landmarks in the history of publishing, from sumptuous deluxe editions to dime novels and chapbooks. The Strouse Collection on the Art & History of the Book is a treasure trove of fine bindings and private press books. It contains exquisite examples of the printer's and binder's art with special emphasis on Cobden-Sanderson, William Morris, and printed books of hours. In addition, the library maintains a collection known by the acronym "BART" (Bancroft Artifacts Relating to Typography) which documents the history of writing and printing from hieroglyphics and cuneiform writing to desktop publishing. The Press Room in Bancroft houses a 19th-century Albion hand press, a half-sized replica of a 17th-century English common press, type cases, galleys, and all the equipment necessary for a print shop. 

Bransten Coffee and Tea Collection

This is one of the most complete collections in existence on the subjects of coffee and tea. It also includes many books on chocolate. The works included range in date from the 16th century to the present.

French Revolution

Bancroft holds nearly 10,000 pamphlets and numerous other sources (monographs, periodicals, and posters) from the late 1780s through the end of the Revolutionary era.

African American Writers

This collection includes the work of black American writers from the 18th century to the present. In addition to first editions of writers such as Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass, Bancroft also houses archival collections of Gwendolyn Brooks and Eldridge Cleaver. 

American Wit and Humor

Named for its creator, Theodore Koundakjian, this collection is particularly strong in 19th-century American imprints. It includes jest books, books in dialect, and humor books by hundreds of American authors.

Fine Printing

With special emphasis on the Bay Area, this collection contains nearly complete collections of such notable private presses as Grabhorn, L. & D. Allen, John Henry Nash, Adrian Wilson, Greenwood, and many more. British and European private presses from the 18th century to the present are also well represented. The documentary archives of a number of presses are held at Bancroft.

Bancroft Poetry Archive

The library's collection of modern poetry concentrates particularly on Bay Area poets since World War II. It includes rare periodicals as well as monographs, and a number of manuscript collections (e.g. City Lights Publishing Company, Auerhahn Press, and the papers of several individual poets), making it a rich resource for research.

Judaica

Judaica, Jewish cultural history, and Western American Jewish history are well represented at The Bancroft Library. Early donated collections at the University Library provided a strong foundation that has been built upon through the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, formerly known as the Judah L. Magnes Museum, added great strength to Bancroft's holdings beginning in 2010. Bancroft curators work closely with the Judaica Librarian of the University Library to add items that document Jewish history in the American West and reflect both historic and present-day examples of Jewish publishing and modern fine printing.