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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.
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.
We hold substantial collections of printed books by the following authors:
The Mortimer Rare Book Collection includes many subject-based collections. 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:
Other subject-based collections include:
Manuscripts and archival collections are cataloged online in the Five College Library Catalog. View detailed finding aids for a number of archival collections online, individually linked below or grouped together here. In some cases, we have finding aids available onsite. Please ask us if there is not an online finding aid for a collection of interest to you.
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 to 1955 and an instructor in the English Department from 1957 to 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.