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Rare Books & Literary Archives


The Mortimer Rare Book Collection includes the College’s rare printed books, medieval manuscripts, literary archives, artists’ books, and other historical and cultural materials. As part of Special Collections, these rare books and manuscripts support the curriculum of the College and enable us to function as a laboratory for the exploration of material culture. The collection scope is chronologically and geographically broad, with substantial holdings in English and American literature, botany, history of science, economics, early children's literature, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English drama and political pamphlets, early lithographic books, and artists’ books.

Among the Collection’s eighty incunables (books printed before 1501) is the Epistole devotissime of St. Catherine of Siena (Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1500), acquired in 1987 as Smith College Libraries' millionth volume.

Printed Books

Rare books are cataloged online in the Five College Library Catalog. You may search our holdings by author, title, subject, binder, call number, publisher, publication date, and provenance. For more information, please contact the curators.

Author Collections

We hold substantial collections of printed books by the following authors:

Subject Collections

The Mortimer Rare Book Collection includes collections in a variety of subjects and fields. Of particular note is the Book Arts Collection, which covers all aspects of historical and contemporary book arts, including examples of illustration types, modern fine press books and artists' books, collections of bookplates, a modest assortment of fore-edge paintings, and a large collection of primarily twentieth-century American decorated cloth bookbindings. The Mortimer Rare Book Collection also collects objects related to the history of the book.

Notable subsets of the Book Arts Collection include:

  • Carter Collection (of book artifacts and examples)
  • The Harold P. McGrath Collection of Connecticut River Valley book arts
  • Publishers' bindings (Harvey and Myrtle Finison Collection)
  • Book jackets (George Salter Collection)
  • Crispin Bookplate Collection
  • Wesby Bookplate Collection
  • Alfred Jerome Brown Bookplate Collection
  • Typographic and calligraphic books and manuscripts by Charles E. Skaggs
  • Hampshire Typothetae books
  • Smith College Student Printing Office (Broadsides and books)

Other subject-based collections include:

  • American Women Travelers Abroad
  • Bloomsbury Group
  • Botany
  • British philology and lexicography
  • Children's literature (18th & 19th century)
  • Economics
  • English drama (17th & 18th century)
  • English political pamphlets (Reign of Queen Anne, 1702-1714)
  • English literature (18th century)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Herbals
  • History of printing
  • History of science
  • Incunables (books printed before 1501)
  • Irish Literary Renaissance
  • Italian Travel Collection
  • Lesbian Pulp Fiction
  • Lithography
  • Private press books
  • Virgin Mary (17th- and 18th-century guidebooks to northern Italian pilgrimage sites)

Manuscripts & Archives

Manuscripts and archival collections are cataloged online in the Five College Library Catalog. All of our finding aids are available onsite in the Special Collections Reading Room. Some of our finding aids are available online (individually linked below, or grouped together here). Please contact Special Collections staff if you have questions about finding aids.

While the focus of the collection has been printed books, there is also an array of other formats in the Mortimer Rare Book Collection. We hold 370 cuneiform tablets dating to 2700 B.C.E., as well as literary and historical manuscripts, including the literary papers of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.

The Papers of Virginia Woolf contain first editions, drafts, annotated page proofs, and letters, including Woolf's correspondence with Lytton Strachey. There are also original drawings by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and other Bloomsbury artists.

An extensive collection of the literary and personal papers of the poet Sylvia Plath is the most used area of the Mortimer Rare Book Collection. Plath was an undergraduate at Smith College from 1950-1955 and an instructor in the Smith College English Department from 1957-1958. At the heart of Plath's papers are successive drafts of her Ariel poems and drafts of her novel, The Bell Jar. Correspondence, journals, and over 150 annotated books from her personal library complete the collection.

Other archival collections include: