Although at first the Library did not create a separate Rare Book Division, Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864 to 1897) gathered rare books, pamphlets, broadsides, and printed ephemera of interest to the scholars of his day. The institution also actively sought out collections that contained rare materials, including the Russian collection of Gennadii Yudin; Joseph Meredith Toner’s library of 43,000 books, pamphlets, scrapbooks, and bound periodicals on American history, the history of medicine, and other subjects; 3,000 15th-century books owned by Otto H. Vollbehr, including one of three known perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum; and Lessing J. Rosenwald’s collection of 2,600 rare illustrated books.
In 1934, the division moved to its present-day location on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, and its reading room is modeled after Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Today the division's collections amount to nearly 800,000 books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, title pages, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. More than 100 collections are maintained, including the personal libraries of Harry Houdini and Susan B. Anthony, author collections of Walt Whitman and Hans Christian Andersen, subject collections on gastronomy and cryptography, and generic collections such as dime novels and Bibles.
A. Rare Book and Special Collection Division curator Dan De Simone shows Galileo’s renderings of the Milky Way in the “Siderius Nuncius” volume. 2008. Michaela McNichol. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.
B. Lessing J. Rosenwald Room. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.