1625 illustration of people playing chess

Early Printed Books

The Huntington’s collection of over 400,000 books from the hand press era is one of the world’s richest sources for the printed record of Great Britain and the United States. Copies of more than a third of known English editions through 1640 are present, and nearly a third from 1641 to 1700. These include multiple copies of the Shakespeare and Ben Jonson folios, many rare early quartos, and most of the play collections of John Philip Kemble and the Dukes of Devonshire. The Huntington is also home to the Bridgewater library, the oldest large family collection of England to survive virtually intact into modern times.

The core collections of Elihu Dwight Church, Beverly Chew, Henry R. Wagner, and Wilberforce Eames anchor the American holdings, with great rarities such as the Bay Psalm Book (1639) and Philip Pain’s Daily Meditations (1668), the first poetry written and printed in the Colonies. A trove of original woodblocks from the 17th to the early 20th century and thousands of extra-illustrated books offer exceptional British and American pictorial resources.

Henry E. Huntington’s penchant for buying whole libraries garnered a choice collection of early Continental literature worthy to stand alongside the Anglo-American holdings. The Library’s more than 5,000 incunabula (books printed before 1501) rank second in the nation in number, with almost a quarter retaining their original bindings. Beginning with a Gutenberg Bible on vellum (ca. 1455), the collection has many highlights, including block books, uniquely decorated copies, and rare Spanish imprints.

Mr. Huntington made sweeping acquisitions in early exploration and atlases, fine printing, bibliography, and 16th-century Mexican books. Recent grand-scale additions in the founder’s spirit include the Francis Bacon Library established by Walter Arensberg, the Burndy Library for the history of science and technology, and the Lawrence D. and Betty Jeanne Longo Collection in Reproductive Biology.

The Huntington’s vast rare book holdings provide value beyond their intellectual content, bearing witness to the history of their printing, ownership, and use, and serving as material touchstones in the digital age.

Resource Guides:
The Bridgewater Library Research Guide
Early Anglo-American Books Research Guide
Huntington Incunabula in the Digital Era Research Guide
Incunabula Research Guide

Banner image credit: Thomas Middleton (1580–1627), A game at chaess as it was acted nine days to gether at the Globe on the banks side, 1625. RB 23674.