Our Collection

Introduction to the Special Collections

Our special collections include a wide variety of rare and unique items: books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets and broadsides, maps, and manuscripts. Chronologically, our holdings range from about one dozen incunables (books published during the first half-century of printing) to signed first editions of the Harry Potter novels. Among our strengths are New York City directories and 18th- and 19th-century travel narratives. Other highlights include the gothic novels found in the Hammond Collection, works on alchemy in the Winthrop Collection, writings on art and theater among the volumes in the Sharaff-Sze Collection, and Italian language books sold to the Library by Mozart's librettist in the Da Ponte Collection.

The Library also holds some manuscript materials: its own institutional archives; correspondence, and other items, chiefly from the Goodhue, Bowne, and Harrison families; as well as literary manuscripts and typescripts. Some materials from our archives have been digitized, transcribed and are now available online in City Readers: Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society LibraryCity Readers is a database of historic records, books, and readers. Search, browse, and visualization tools support the discovery and analysis of over 100,000 biographic, bibliographic, and transaction data, derived from digitized content from our archives. Circulation records from 1789 to 1805, when the Library shared Federal Hall with the first American Congress, have been fully digitized and transcribed, and the data is now available for free through City Readers. By providing detailed metadata for the books and readers documented in the charging ledgers, City Readers is a virtual reconstruction of the Library as a social and literary institution in New York at the turn of the eighteenth century. We plan to expand the project as funding becomes available.

You do not have to be a member of the Library to consult our special collections holdings. We welcome inquiries from researchers; our e-mail address is rare_books@nysoclib.org.

Use the links below to find information on our named collections.