Rare Books Collection
The Gutenberg Bible, 1455.
The rare book collection includes printed books from the 15th through the 20th centuries. The collection also houses maps, broadsides, pamphlets, newspapers, and many other printed formats. These collections of about 375,000 items are concentrated in the field of British and American culture with many topics and periods covered in extraordinary depth.
On Permanent Display
Johann Gutenberg’s Bible was the first substantial book printed with movable type in the West. Printed about 1450-55 in Mainz, Germany, the Bible is in Latin, in the standard medieval Catholic version known as the Vulgate. Only the text, in type called black letter, or gothic, was printed with movable type. The Huntington copy is one of eleven surviving copies printed on vellum, and one of three such copies in the United States. An additional thirty-six copies printed on paper also survive.
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 this first folio edition of William Shakespeare’s collected plays, published in 1623, seven years after his death. The First Folio contains thirty-six plays, eighteen 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. An artist with remarkable intellect, perceptiveness, and poetic power, Shakespeare applied his keen mind and genius to portray the conflicts and emotions of human beings.
William Shakespeare, Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, London 1623. First Folio, title page.
Access to the Collection
A small portion of the collection is on view to the public in the Library Exhibition Hall, with access also available through the Library Online Catalog. For registered Huntington researchers, or "readers," the collection is accessible via the Author/Title Card Catalog, special card catalogs and separately created databases at the Huntington, and published subject and period bibliographies. A major portion of the English and American imprints before 1801 appear in the English Short Title Catalogue; the American newspaper collection is searchable through the California Newspaper Project.