The Rare Books Collection, located on the sixth level of the Wise Library, contains old and rare books from 1300 to the present which have been donated to the University Libraries or transferred from the Libraries' general collections. The collection is particularly strong in the areas of literature, history, religion, philosophy, and natural history. These subject areas reflect the personal interests of donors who have given their own collections of rare books to the University Libraries.
Students visiting the Rare Books Collection
The rare book collection of William Shakespeare, renowned author of poetry and plays, includes all four of Shakespeare’s folios, the most important collections of his plays. The collection of Shakespeare’s folios includes a copy of the variant second folio, the Smethwick edition, and the third folio, a rare survivor of the great fire in London of 1666. The Shakespeare collection also contains Classical and Elizabethan historical literature, the very works which Shakespeare used as resources, as well as other Elizabethan works by Shakespeare's contemporaries, such as Ben Jonson, George Peele, Robert Greene, Francis Beaumont, and John Fletcher, along with dozens of the important 17th century to mid-20th century editions of his collected plays and poetry.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was one of the most popular authors of the 19th century, and remains so today. Largely known for his humorous novels, Twain was also an inventor and travel writer. The rare book collection of 19th and early 20th century American authors is particularly notable for the great number of first editions and special printings of Twain’s works. The collection also includes correspondence, letters, and a postcard in Twain’s own hand, as well as a scrapbook made with a new pasting process Twain invented.
Noted science fiction author Isaac Asimov was also one of the 20th century’s most prolific authors, with 600 titles to his credit. From the Foundation Trilogy to I, Robot to his collaboration with Robert Silverberg on one of his most popular latter day story collections, Nightfall, Asimov changed the way we imagine new worlds, new concepts, and new ideas. The Asimov collection includes signed works, first editions, children’s books, games, movies, and many other diverse materials that bear the hallmark of Isaac Asimov.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, publishers sought to capture the attention of the buying public through the production of highly decorative and attractive book cover designs. Used as marketing tools, book cover designs commissioned by publishers were the products of gifted painters and artists who lent their talents to the creation of beautiful books. Often referred to as publishers’ book bindings, the collection holds many works by such noted designers as Thomas Watson Ball, Bertha Stuart, Margaret Armstrong, the painters George Wharton Edwards and Sarah Wyman Whitman, and a consortium of designers, known as the Decorative Designers, among many others.
The art of botanical illustration was considered an essential tool for the identification of plants for medical use and the art of cultivation. Often hand colored works of great beauty and precision, the illustrated botanical collection includes works by Linnaeus, the 18th century father of plant classification, as well as the illustrations of William Woodville in his Medical Botany, the illustrated volumes of island vegetation depicted in the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, and Deville’s Histoire des Plantes de L’ Europe, among works by Leonhart Fuchs, Otto Brunfels, and many others.
Beginning his career in New York City as a commercial artist for popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Evans transformed his life and work when he moved to West Virginia with his wife Kay, and reconstructed an 18th century cabin in Preston County. Once established in West Virginia, with Kay always by his side, Evans moved from artist to author, hunter, and then breeder of champion setter dogs as he chronicled his hunting exploits and his breeding efforts, resulting in the Old Hemlock setter line. Along the way, the Evanses also turned their hand to writing popular mystery novels under the pen name of Brandon Bird. The George Bird Evans collection includes works from all periods of his life, including commercial artwork, novels, and hunting and breeding books.
Appalachian author Jesse Stuart was highly regarded in his lifetime as a prolific poet who also wrote short stories and novels about the world surrounding his Kentucky home. After the success of his early poetry collection, Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, Stuart was named the Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1954. Stuart’s "rough-hewn" poems and stories delighted readers with their sentiment, local color charm, and timeless homespun philosophy. Generous with his inscriptions, the Jesse Stuart collection holds many signed first editions of his works, each detailed with prolific notes in his own hand, dedicating his work to the book’s owner.
Assistant Curator for WV Books and Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian
The Rare Books Collection would not be possible without the generosity of donors. For more information, visit our Donate page.