Category Archives: Rare Books

Original Leaves from Famous Books – Nine Centuries 1122 A.D. – 1923 A.D.

This collection of manuscript and printed leaves from famous books was complied by Otto F. Ege, a professor of art history and private collector of manuscripts.

View the collection online.




Exhibitions: Notable Selections: An Exhibition of Music in the St. John’s University Archives and Special Collections

April 11, 2014 – May 9, 2014
St. Augustine Hall, 3rd Floor

music exhibitThis exhibition showcases the history of music at St. John’s, including a pamphlet (c.1909-1912) that give a description of the music courses offered for adults and children at the time, a Glee Club record album, and pictures from a James Taylor concert in the 80’s. Also included are a variety of items from Special Collections, from historical children’s books with nursery rhymes and songs, to operas and illustrated collections of famous songs and composers. All of these and more music-related books and historical materials are available for research in the St. John’s University Archives and Special Collections.

Exhibition: Slavery and the Road to Freedom: Featured Documents and Books from the St. John’s University Special Collections

February 15, 2013 – March 15, 2013
St. Augustine Hall, 3rd Floor

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
Co-curated by Megan Margino and Sharell Walker

Manumission letter written by Joshua Pigman and James Argent of Frederick County State Maryland freeing two slaves, James and Frances, once they turn 21 years old. May 22, 1784.

Manumission letter written by Joshua Pigman and James Argent of Frederick County State Maryland freeing two slaves, James and Frances, once they turn 21 years old. May 22, 1784.

The St. John’s University Special Collections presents an exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Within Special Collections are a variety of primary and secondary documents related to slavery, the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Included in this display are reproductions of original documents in Special Collections such as hand-written letters and documents from people such as Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and other notable figures of the era. There are also rare and first edition books that contain unique perspectives on the historical events leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation.

These documents are available for research by appointment in the University Archives and Special Collections. To make an appointment, please call (718) 990-1465 or email

Exhibition: Books as Historical Artifacts: An Examination of the Book Beyond the Text

April 24, 2013 – May 14, 2013
St. Augustine Hall, 3rd Floor
rare book 2Physical books are both texts and artifacts; objects that indicate distinct histories of design, production and use.  Printed works reflect the technologies of paper and parchment making, type casting and printing, and binding – each recording historical developments in book production. They also give clues to past ownership and readership through book plates, inscriptions, marginalia and the occasional ephemera tucked inside their pages (clippings, letters, pressed flowers, etc.). It may well be that the future of the physical book is in peril, replaced by electronic and digitized versions. But books as artifacts of the past will continue to impart other meanings beyond the textual content.

The twelve books on exhibition – dating from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries – were examined and described by graduate students in the Library and Information Science and Public History programs at St. John’s University. The class on special collections librarianship and the history of books and printing was taught by archivist and special collections librarian, Dr. Blythe Roveland-Brenton. The co-curators are: Audrey Belanger, Katie Daniels, Nicole Husbands, Egita Johnson, David McMahon, Janay Meertens-Deans, Kendra Meyer, Christina Orozco, Melissa Perlzweig, Laura Smith, Matthew Weidemann, and Porscha Williams.

Interested in these or other rare books from the University Libraries Special Collections department? Contact us at to make an appointment.

Limited Editions

Limited EditionsSome of the more unusual items in the Limited Edition collection are art exhibit catalogues and folders containing original lithographs and etchings. The Colophon (1932-1938) and the New Colophon (1948-1950) are examples of limited editions periodicals.

Search the Limited Edition books in the library’s catalog.

Rare Books

Rare Books

Search the rare books collection in the library’s catalog.

The St. John’s University Libraries own one of the ten extant copies of the third edition of the first German Bible printed in America. In 1776, all but a few copies of the Saur Bible were destroyed when the British invaded Germantown and converted the freshly printed leaves into litter for their horses and paper for their cartridges; hence its name–Gunwad Bible. Christoph Saur’s daughter Catherine rescued a handful of copies which she had bound for members of the family.

Among the Rare Books the Libraries also count an Ethiopian Psalter. This Amharic manuscript on vellum is attached to wooden boards and housed in its own goat-hide carrying case. Our holdings of three incunabula, a Bible printed in Venice 1492 and two different editions of St. Augustine’s works (1486 and 1497), represent the earliest Western printed book production efforts.

Much of the collection (over 800 volumes) consists of transfers from the general circulating collection and donations from parish, seminary and private clerical libraries. As a result there are several 16th- and 17th-century editions of works of the Church Fathers and 18th- and 19th-century writings of missionaries.

Myer Collection of Accounting

Myer Collection of Accounting HistoryThe Joseph C. Myer Collection consists of over 300 monographs, journals and ledgers on the theory, history and practice of accounting. Publication dates span four centuries. The strength of this collection is primarily 17th-and 18th-century Continental and 19th-century American books on methods of bookkeeping and business procedures.

Search the Myer Collection books in the library’s catalog.

Fischer Lawn Tennis Collection

Fisher Lawn Tennis CollectionSearch the Fischer Lawn Tennis Collection books in the library’s catalog.

View the Introduction to the William M. Fischer Lawn Tennis Collection on YouTube.

William M. Fischer, an accountant by profession, was an avid tennis enthusiast. Starting in 1897 he built a varied collection of over 2,000 items including books, scrap books, periodicals, yearbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs, souvenir programs and memorabilia. He also kept accounts in large bookkeeping ledgers on players’ personal data and game performance. Two of the earliest monographs on the game of tennis in the collection are C.F. Peile’s Lawn Tennis as a Game of Skill, 1884, and Lawn Tennis by James Dwight, 1886. The collection’s emphasis is on material through the early part of the century up to 1955. Several of the early books are signed by one or more tennis players.

The collection has had a few temporary stops since Mr. Fischer’s death. In 1947 through a trust indenture the title to the library went from Mr. Fischer to a board of trustees. In 1964 the trustees gave the collection to New York University (Bronx campus) to be made available for serious students of the game. Ten years later it was moved to The New York Public Library. In April 1978 the William M. Fischer Lawn Tennis Collection was officially opened in the St. John’s University Library, its permanent home.

Since its opening, the collection has generated much research interest. The photographs have been used to illustrate encyclopedias and tennis history books; fiction writers have also visited the collection in search of historical settings and interesting characters from the pages of periodicals. The many primary source documents include letters, score cards, minutes of meetings and an unpublished novel, as well as fifty years of newspaper clippings carefully pasted into notebooks. There is also memorabilia, a silver cup, several medals and a few of Mr. Fischer’s personal effects.


Children’s Historical Collection

Children's Historical CollectionSearch for Children’s Historical Collection books in the library’s catalog.

The primary emphasis of this collection donated by Anne Thaxter Eaton is children’s books of the 19th century. There are some 18th as well as a few 20th-century items among the 500 volumes in the collection. Judging by the very poor condition of the books they must have been uniformly well used and abused regardless of their age.

There are examples of original Caldecott picturebooks, McGuffey’s readers, as well as first editions of fables and stories illustrated by Arthur Rackham. In its entirety the collection reflects a good cross-section of the variety and types of educational and recreational periodicals, storybooks, primers and novels available to the children of the past century.

Baxter Collection

Baxter Collection

Search the Baxter Collection books in the library’s catalog.

John E. Baxter donated over 311 volumes representing almost all the published works of four American authors: Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), William Dean Howells (1837-1920), Henry Van Dyke (1853-1933), and Edith Wharton (1862-1937). There are approximately a dozen inscribed or presentation copies among these volumes bearing the author’s signature.

Many of the books in this collection (the collection has grown to over 360 titles), first editions in their original binding, provide support for comprehensive research in late 19th- and early 20th-century American fiction and literary criticism.