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UC Berkeley Library
History Room

Special Collections

The UC Berkeley Library's collections are the oldest on the West Coast and include more than 400 special collections, recognized for their rare and unusual content. Located in The Bancroft Library as well as throughout our subject specialty libraries, these collections include unique materials such as maps, manuscripts, rare books, photographs, video and sound recordings, architectural drawings, ephemera, and materials in electronic formats. These rare materials are sought after and heavily used by students and faculty, as well as by visiting researchers and scholars every day.


Canzoni by Alessandro Scarlatti, circa 1700, featuring illuminations in gold, red, blue, and black ink.
Among the treasures from the Music Library's extraordinary special collections are such items as an eleventh-century Gregorian chant manuscript; unique copies of printed Renaissance partbooks; the sole surviving manuscript of Alessandro Scarlatti's opera L'Aldimiro; the famous Parville Manuscript of French seventeenth-century keyboard music; autographed manuscripts of Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, and the great astronomer Sir William Herschel (who began life as a musician); and memorabilia of jazz great Earl "Fatha" Hines, including part of his extensive collection of cufflinks.

Saint Thomas a Becke

Saint Thomas a Becket--Miniature from a 15th century English manuscript.
The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at UC Berkeley. One of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in the United States, Bancroft supports major research and instructional activities and plays a leading role in the development of the University's research collections.

Audubon birds

Hand-colored lithograph from the seven-volume octavo edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America (1840-44).


In the winter of 1899-1900, Phoebe Apperson Hearst funded an excavation of the ancient Egyptian village of Tebtunis on behalf of the University of California. Over 35,000 fragments of papyri, including priceless pieces of ancient Greek and Egyptian literature and documents illuminating the daily life of the village's inhabitants over 1,700 years ago were uncovered. This is the largest collection in the United States of papyrus documents from a single site.

mark twain

The Mark Twain Papers contain the private documents of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), pictured here in 1906. This unparalleled collection, begun with the bequest of family letters, papers, and manuscripts by Mark Twain's daughter to the University, is unique in its breadth and importance to American literature and studies. The collection has been aggressively but judiciously expanded through ongoing acquisition of Mark Twain's original holograph letters and manuscripts, as well as facsimiles of documents owned by others, until it has become the world's most comprehensive archive of the author's copious writings, published or unpublished. The collection also features about 150 books from his library, business documents, clippings, scrapbooks, interviews, bills, checks, photographs, and a handful of other objects originally owned by him.

mark twain manuscript

Mark Twain's preface to "The American Claimant" (1892) from the original manuscript.

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