Mortimer Rare Book Room Collections


The rare book and manuscript collection is an adjunct to the curriculum of the college, a laboratory for the exploration of material culture. Shelved around the walls in the handsome wood-paneled reading room are substantial holdings in English and American literature, botany, history of science, economics, early children's literature, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English drama and political pamphlets, early lithographic books, British phonology and lexicography, and nineteenth-century American trade cards.

Among the eighty incunabula is the Epistole devotissime of St. Catherine of Siena (Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1500), acquired in 1987 as the Smith College Libraries' millionth volume.

All rare books are cataloged online in the Five College Library Catalog. Access to the rare book collection is available by main entry, title, subject, binder, call number, publication date, provenance, and donor. For more information contact the curators.

Author Collections

  • Austen, Jane
  • Browne, J. Ross
  • Carroll, Lewis
  • Chatterton, Thomas
  • Dickens, Charles
  • Digby, Kenelm
  • Durrell, Lawrence
  • Eliot, George
  • Faulkner, William
  • Hemingway, Ernest
  • Jewett, Sarah Orne
  • Kipling, Rudyard
  • Mansfield, Katherine
  • Nabokov, Vladimir
  • Plath, Sylvia
  • Sackville-West, Vita
  • Shaw, George Bernard
  • Shelley, Mary
  • Thaxter, Celia
  • Welty, Eudora
  • Woolf, Virginia

Subject Collections

The Book Arts Collection is only one of many subject collections in the Mortimer Rare Book Room. All aspects of historical and contemporary book arts are represented: examples of illustrations in original media, modern fine press books and artists' books (including books printed by students at Smith College), collections of bookplates, a modest assortment of fore-edge paintings, and a large collection of primarily twentieth-century American decorated cloth bookbindings. There are also working papers of George Salter and his own books with dust jackets designed by him, and a substantial number of typographic and calligraphic books and manuscripts from the letterer and designer Charles E. Skaggs. The McGrath Collection of Connecticut River valley book arts concentrates on local artisans. There are also significant archives and books from the Hampshire Bookshop and the Hampshire Typothetae, both important landmarks of Northampton book culture. The Mortimer Rare Book Room also collects objects related to the history of the book and printing.

Other subject collections include:

  • American Women Travelers Abroad
  • Bloomsbury
  • Book arts (Harold P. McGrath Collection)
  • Book jackets (George Salter Collection)
  • Botany
  • British philology and lexicography
  • Children's literature (18th & 19th century)
  • English drama (17th & 18th century)
  • English economics
  • English political pamphlets (Reign of Queen Anne, 1702-1714)
  • English literature (18th century)
  • Herbals
  • History of printing
  • History of science
  • Incunabula
  • Irish Literary Renaissance
  • Italian Travel Collection
  • Lesbian Pulp Fiction
  • Lithography
  • Mary, Blessed Virgin, Saint (17th- and 18th-century guidebooks to northern Italian pilgrimage sites)
  • Private press books
  • Publishers' bindings (Harvey and Myrtle Finison Collection)
  • Smith College Student Printing Office (Broadsides and books)


All manuscripts are cataloged online in the Five College Library Catalog. View detailed finding aids for a number of collections online:

While the emphasis of the collection is on printed books, there are also 370 cuneiform tablets dating back to 2700 B.C., as well as literary and historical manuscripts. Two jewels of the Mortimer Rare Book Room are the literary papers of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. The Frances Hooper ('14) Collection of Virginia Woolf contains first editions, manuscripts, annotated page proofs, and letters, including Woolf's correspondence with Lytton Strachey. A related collection of Bloomsbury iconography was assembled by Elizabeth P. Richardson ('43) and features graphic images, including Leslie Stephen's photograph album. There are also original drawings by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and other Bloomsbury artists. An extensive collection of the literary and personal papers of the poet Sylvia Plath is the most popular holding of the rare book room. Plath was an undergraduate at Smith College from 1950 to 1955 and an instructor in the English Department from 1957 to 1958. At the heart of Plath's papers are successive drafts of her Ariel poems and drafts of her novel, The Bell Jar. Correspondence, journals, and over 150 annotated books from her library complete the collection.

Other manuscript collections include: