THE LIBRARY COLLECTIONS AT THE HUNTINGTON
The Huntington Library, one of the institution’s three collecting areas (in addition to the art collections and the botanical gardens), is one of the largest and most complete independent research libraries in the United States in its fields of specialization.
The Huntington’s holdings include English and American history and literature from the 11th century to the present, European medieval manuscripts, Renaissance exploration and cartography, Latin American history, and the history of science (for which there is a permanent exhibition on view). Particular strengths include Middle English literature, English politics and law in the early modern era, the English aristocracy from the later Middle Ages through the 18th century, American colonial history, 18th-century British and American military history, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the exploration and development of the American West. English and American literary collections from the Renaissance to the present day are especially strong in material relating to 18th-century Britain, Victorian literature and the pre-Raphaelites, American literature in the second half of the 19th century, and theater and drama covering some 500 years.
The rare books collection includes printed books from the 15th through the 20th centuries. It also houses maps, broadsides, pamphlets, newspapers, and many other printed formats. The approximately 420,000 items are concentrated in the fields of British and American culture, with many topics and periods covered in extraordinary depth.
The Huntington’s Gutenberg Bible is one of 12 surviving copies printed on vellum (animal skin), and one of three such copies in the United States. It was the first substantial book printed with movable type in the West. Printed in about 1455 in Mainz, Germany, the Bible is in Latin, in the standard medieval Catholic version known as the Vulgate.
The Huntington has the second-largest collection of incunabula in the United States, after the Library of Congress. The term designates books printed before 1501 during the infancy, or “in the cradle,” of the new technology of the printing press.
One of the Library’s most prized works is the first folio edition of William Shakespeare’s collected plays, published in 1623, seven years after his death. The First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of them printed for the first time. This “authorized version,” prepared by his friends and colleagues from “true originall copies,” is the prime source of our knowledge of Shakespeare’s texts.
The Library houses more than 850,000 prints and negatives from the early history of photography to the present. This collection covers a variety of topics including the American Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad, “Grand Tours” of Europe, fine architectural photography, and modest family photograph albums; it is particularly strong in depicting the history and development of the American West. Within this broad regional focus are photographs generated by the great surveys of the American West conducted in the 19th century, commissioned by both railroad corporations and the federal government. The collection also includes the vast Southern California Edison archive of prints and negatives.
The Huntington traditionally has collected the work of noted photographers, most of whom were active professionally at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century. The collection contains significant bodies of work by Carleton Watkins, Carl Moon, Frederick Monsen, Edward Curtis, Alfred A. Hart, F. Jay Haynes, William Henry Jackson, Adam Clark Vroman, Andrew Russell, Eadweard Muybridge, C. C. Pierce, Frances Benjamin Johnston, and others.
In recent years The Huntington has acquired the collections of several commercial photographers whose works document various phases in the history of Southern California and elsewhere. These include the J. Allen Hawkins collection of Pasadena (1910–60), the “Dick” Whittington collection of the development of Southern California in the postwar boom years, the B. D. Jackson collection depicting the developing suburbs of Los Angeles, and the Maynard Parker collection documenting the modern home and garden in mid-20th-century Southern California.
The historical print collection at The Huntington consists of more than 250,000 images that depict aspects of British and American cultural and political life between the 16th and 19th centuries. Published as separately issued prints and in extra-illustrated books are portraits, historical scenes and events, political and social caricatures, theatrical and literary history, illustrations to Shakespeare’s plays, biblical illustrations, British and American views, and British and American trade cards. The print collection also is rich in portraiture and iconographic figures and is representative of the history and technical development of printmaking processes through the mid 20th century.
Printed ephemera—that body of material that was produced for a onetime, limited purpose—can be understood generally as transient documents of everyday life. The Huntington’s collection of ephemera is an expansive archive of several hundred thousand pieces. The variety of subjects and formats represented in the larger collection supports historical research in the fields of American and British cultural studies. The collection emphasizes Western history and culture, especially that of Southern California. Particularly noteworthy is the Jay T. Last collection of lithographic and social history.
The map collection at The Huntington contains approximately 25,000 individuals maps and 500 atlases. It is exceptionally strong in maps relating to California, the West, and North America, including the City of Los Angeles, Southern California ranchos, and subdivisions of the City of Los Angeles and neighboring towns. While collecting cartography was not his highest priority, Henry E. Hunt ington recognized the significance of maps to the study of history, affirmed when he acquired en bloc the Church and Bridgewater libraries containing a rich variety of maps and atlases documenting European exploration, colonial expansion, and British and American history. The collections have grown to include rare 14th,-16th century maps, and globes and American maps relating to the origins of the Mason-Dixon Line, the American Revolution, and the history of California.