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About the Manuscripts Collections and the Rare Books Collections

Manuscript Collections| Guides to Manuscripts and Archival Collections | Rare Books | Other Important Collections of Books

Manuscript Collections

The major emphases of Special Collections' manuscripts collections are American history and literature. The manuscripts collections total approximately 13 million items in over 14,000 discrete collection units and over 250,000 photographs and small prints, over 8,000 reels of microfilm, nearly 8,000 microfiche, and substantial holdings of audio recordings and motion picture films.

In 1832, the University of Virginia was deeded the papers of the Lee Family of Virginia, written between 1742 and 1795. These papers comprised the original foundation of the present manuscript collections. In 1930 formal efforts to launch a collecting program for manuscripts began, a program that has resulted in continuing success. The collections are ripe with political, domestic, economic, religious, agricultural, and educational records in the form of manuscripts, letters, and diaries. The Library has long collected Virginiana and has been fortunate in attracting endowments for the support of acquisitions in this area; the Elizabeth Cocke Coles Fund and the Alfred Henry Byrd Fund are the two most important. Major acquisitions for the Virginiana collection have also come through gifts from alumni and friends of the University and the Library. Most important among the historical manuscripts collections is a series of papers, largely nineteenth century, from Virginia and southern families. These collections include many prominent Virginia families: Lee, Randolph, Berkeley, Cocke, Cabell, Carr, Bryan, Tucker, Barbour, Bruce, Carter, Smith, Hubard, Jefferson, Watson and Harrison. These papers are mined constantly for studies in many areas, from African-American studies to social and political history.

Papers of U. S. Presidents, Cabinet officers and administration officials include those of Thomas Jefferson, Amos T. Akerman, James Barbour, Henry Clay, Carter Glass, James Madison, James Monroe, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Alexander H. H. Stuart, Claude Augustus Swanson, John Tyler, Homer Stille Cummings, Louis Johnson and Woodrow Wilson. Members of the U. S. Congress include those of James Breckenridge, William Cabell Bruce, John Warwick Daniel, Robert M. T. Hunter, Richard Henry Lee, James McDowell, Jr., Wilson Cary Nicholas, John A. Quitman, John Randolph of Roanoke, William Cabell Rives, John F. Rixey and Samuel Smith. Justics of the U. S. Supreme Court and judges of Virginia courts include those of Philip Pendleton Barbour, William H. Cabell, Dabney Carr, Peter V. Daniel, George Jefferson Hundley, John L. Ingram, Archibald Stuart, Creed Taylor and Bushrod Washington. Military leaders include John Hartwell Cocke, Philip St. George Cocke , James Chatham Duane, John Daniel Imboden, Bradley Tyler Johnson, William Morris, John Singleton Mosby, and Thomas L. Rosser.

Twentieth-century political and public affairs collections include the papers of U.S. Senators Carter Glass, Harry F. Byrd, Sr., and Jr., Hugh Scott, William B. Spong, Oscar W. Underwood and John Warner; local, regional, state and federal administrators and politicians such as Allen C. Braxton, Everett R. Combs, Flora Crater, Herbert Harris, Joseph Hutcheson, Martin Hutchinson, John S. Battle, William A. Jones, J. Harry Michael, Francis P. Miller, Richard H. Poff, G. Fred Switzer as well as those of U.S. representatives such as Howard Worth Smith and Richard Poff. Also evident are those involved in diplomatic service such as J. Rives Childs, Hugh Cumming, Louis J. Halle, and Murat Williams Papers. The papers of Virginia journalists include Walter S. Copeland, Virginius Dabney, Douglas Southall Freeman, Thomas A. Hanes, Louis I. Jaff, James J. Kilpatrick, Thomas A. Hanes, Philip L. Scruggs, Herbert P. Emmerich, Guy Moffitt, Edwin M. Watson, John Skelton Williams, Walter Wyatt and Louis Spilman. Business leaders include John Skelton Williams and Edward R. Stettinius, Sr.

Other Virginiana collections of note include the Civil War and Reconstruction papers of John W. Daniel, Eppa Hunton, R.M.T. Hunter, John D. Imboden, John S. Mosby, James L. Kemper, Thomas L. Rosser and "Extra Billy" Smith; the diplomatic papers of J. Rives Childs and Hugh Cumming; business, economic and labor papers of Lloyd C. Bird, the Borderland Coal Company, William Jett Lauck and the Low Moor Iron Company; environmental papers of the Central Virginia Environment Center, Conservation Council of Virginia, U. S. Atomic Energy Commission, and the Virginia Electric and Power Company; missionary papers of the Higginbotham family (India) and Taylor family (China); naval history papers of Samuel Barron, Frank F. Fletcher, the Hamond family (Sir Andrew Snape Hamond), Gustavus R. B. Horner, and the Whittle family; southern folklore collections of Arthur Kyle Davis, the Virginia WPA foklore project, and the Virginia Folklore Society papers; the political cartoons of Fred Seibel; the John Powell music collection.

The Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature is the cornerstone of the American literature collections. Additionally, Special Collections holds many substantial literary collections not in the Barrett Library. Among them are the William Faulkner Collection, John Dos Passos, James Branch Cabell, Ellen Glasgow, Mary Johnston, Margaret Carpenter-Sara Teasdale, Ingram-Poe Collection (about Poe by his biographer John Henry Ingram), and the Harry Meacham-Ezra Pound collection. We have substantial collections of contemporary authors John Casey, Ann Beattie, Michael Ryan, and Paul Bowles. Non-American author collections of significance are Matthew Arnold, Richard Dodderidge Blackmore, Julien Green, Jorge Luis Borges and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Other Virginia authors represented are John Esten Cooke, Hawthorne Daniel, Clifford Dowdey, Murrell Edmunds, George Cary Eggleston, John Fox, Jr., Nancy Hale, John Pendleton Kennedy, Francis Parkinson Keyes, Jane McClary, Julian Meade, Thomas Nelson Page, Philip Alexander Bruce, John Reuben Thompson, Agnes Rothery Pratt and Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy.

There has been a special effort made in recent years to acquire collections which document the history of African-Americans in Virginia and the South such as the papers of the Southern Elections Fund, ca. 1968-1975, including professional and personal correspondence of Julian Bond, the Fund's chairman. Included is correspondence, mailing lists, newsletters, printed material, photographs, slides, videotapes, and miscellany produced by the various officers and trustees of the organization. The Fund was established to funnel campaign funds and technical assistance to progressive Southern political candidates.

Additionally there are other smaller subject collections such as medieval manuscripts in the collections of the McGregor Library, Rosenthal, Hench, and Stone.

 Nearly all manuscript materials in Special Collections are accessible on VIRGO, the Library's online catalog.

Guides to Manuscript and Archival Collections

Many of the guides to our manuscript collections are available online. They have been marked up in Encoded Archival Description (EAD). They have been integrated into the statewide Virginia Heritage database. To search only the guides from our collections, be sure to limit your search to the "University of Virginia, Special Collections Dept."

  • NOTE: To search only the guides for our U.Va. collections, be sure to limit your search by setting "Limit by institution" to "University of Virginia, Special Collections Dept."
  • Search the Virginia Heritage database 


Rare Book Holdings

The major emphases of Special Collections' rare book holdings are American history and literature. The collections are approximately 325,000 in number of volumes.

The gift of the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History in the late 1930s brought to the University a magnificent collection of rare books and manuscripts, dating from the fifteenth through the late nineteenth centuries, and concentrating on Americana, accounts of travel and exploration in the Western Hemisphere, and in books that influenced thought concerning the largely unknown areas of the New World. Also included was a substantial collection of material about the Mather family of New England, especially Increase and Cotton Mather, which Mr. McGregor had purchased earlier in the decade from William Gwinn Mather. The third section of the McGregor Library included some fine English books and manuscripts. Through gifts from the McGregor Fund and more recently the Fund's generous endowment, as well as other friends, the McGregor Library has grown steadily over the years.

The Library's first substantial collection in the area of American literature came just before World War I when it bought the archives of Edgar Allan Poe's English biographer, John Henry Ingram, which included transcripts of Poe letters (the originals of a number of which are not extant), and interviews with persons who had known Poe. After the Library moved from its original home in the Jefferson-designed Rotunda to the Alderman Library in 1938, extensive collecting of rare books and manuscripts began, and the papers and books of many Virginia authors were acquired.

It was, however, the gift of the world-class Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature that brought the University of Virginia to the forefront of institutions holding American literature collections. "It contains," as Herbert Cahoon wrote for the Library's dedication in 1960, "insofar as it has been possible to assemble them, all fiction, poetry, drama, and essays published by an American in book form [from 1775] up to and including the year 1875; for the years remaining [to 1950] it contains a very nearly complete collection of the works of every major American writer." Books and manuscripts are added regularly to the Barrett Library through gifts and purchases using the Library's endowed funds.

Complementing these two libraries are many collections, which, though smaller, are significant in their own right. The William Faulkner Collection, begun and donated by the late Linton R. Massey, contains everything in print by the author, in every edition (including foreign language editions) and every printing, including criticism and dissertations. Donations and purchases have brought the Faulkner Collection to pre-eminence in the world.

As Thomas Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia, he was also the creator of its library, selecting all of the nearly 7,000 books for it. Some of these books survived the disastrous 1895 fire in the Rotunda, and are in Special Collections today where they form a collection of particular interest because of their reflection of Jefferson's reading habits and his thoughts concerning education. The Library has made specific efforts to acquire both books owned by Jefferson and copies of the fine arts books that he is known to have owned; of the 130 fine arts titles selected by Jefferson for the original University Library, Special Collections holds all but nineteen.


Other Important Special Collections of Books

Sadleir-Black Gothic Novel Collection

Taylor Collection of popular American literature

Early Virginia family libraries of the Garnetts of "Elmwood" and the Carters of "Sabine Hall"

Collections in the book arts including those presented by Messrs. Stone, Ogg, Tompkins, Chappell, and Watts

Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Collection

Marvin Tatum Collection of Contemporary Literature (1910 to the present, but concentrating on "avant-garde" poetry and prose of the 1950s and 1960s)

White-Hemingway Collection

Paul Victorius Evolution Collection (which may be the largest assemblage of evolution material outside England)

Sporting library of Marion duPont Scott, which includes over 3,000 volumes including strong holdings of books and periodicals about racing, breeding, coaching, hunting and horsemanship, as well as many books in the allied fields of hunting dogs and fox hounds, game fowls, falconry and veterinary medicine.

Douglas H. Gordon Collection of French Books, which has been called "the most important collection of its kind in private hands before it was bequeathed to the University of Virginia" in 1986. It includes 1,234 volumes, over 600 of which were printed before 1600; many are in extremely fine contemporary or later bindings.

British literature collections, including

Tennyson (which contains nearly all the first editions, and many later ones, as well as those illustrated by Edward Lear)

Kipling (the 450 volumes include all but the rarest imprint, many American editions, and many of the books and magazines to which he contributed)

the Sitwells (the Arthur P. Bean, Jr., Collection is one of the most important Sitwell collections outside Britain)

Trollope (including many of the author's own copies of his works)

Dickens (gifts of three separate Dickens Collections have created a particularly strong holding)

Victorian literature (items by major and minor authors, especially women, are now the focus of acquisitions)


Other special collections held by Special Collections include approximately 15,000 pieces of American sheet music, chiefly nineteenth-century; the Swan Music Collection, which has significant material in the area of Russian music; the Mackay-Smith Music Collection of European Music, 1650-1910; the Monticello Music Collection (sheet and other music owned by the Jefferson and Randolph families); the Martin Jules Hertz Collection of Classical Pamphlets (ca. 6,000 items assembled by a German scholar at the end of the nineteenth century, including some titles not available elsewhere in this country); the Streeter Railroad Collection (that portion of the great Streeter collection devoted to southeastern U.S. railroads and canals); the Barnard Shipp and Mrs. Charles T. Neale collections of books about voyages and travels; The Franz Kafka Collection ("some 300 items...German, British, and American first editions, first appearances in periodicals, opera scores, and criticism"); the Wilbur Cortez Abbott Collection of Seventeenth-Century English History and Literature (material assembled by Oliver Cromwell's bibliographer); and the Jorge Luis Borges Collection, the strongest Borges collection known , including unique copies of several of his early works.

The Library has long collected Virginiana, and has been fortunate in attracting endowments for the support of acquisitions in this area; the Elizabeth Cocke Coles Collection of Books About Virginia and the Alfred Henry Byrd Fund are the two most important. Many additional important acquisitions for the Virginiana collection have come through gifts from alumni and friends of the University and the Library. Almost every aspect of Virginiana has been collected: histories ranging from accounts of historic homes, battles, towns, counties, regions; biography of Virginians and those who had major influences on Virginia; Virginia writers' works in all forms; genealogy; Virginia imprints, especially from our area; religion; Virginia Masons; education; and others.

Two recent endowments supporting acquisitions in natural history are from John S. McIlhenny in memory of his brother Walter S. McIlhenny and Edmund Berkeley, Jr., in memory of his parents Edmund and Dorothy Berkeley. The Henry Gordon endowment provides funds for the purchase of nineteenth and twentieth century juvenile pop-up books.

Nearly all rare book materials in Special Collections are accessible on VIRGO, the Library's online catalog.

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