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Rare Book Collection

The Rare Book Collection consists of 1,670 titles (2,645 volumes), including first and limited editions; Confederate imprints; 19th-century Georgia books; significant Southern historical and literary volumes; and books with unusually fine printing, binding, or illustrations.

Of particular note are five incunabula (pre-1501), 31 Joel Chandler Harris titles, 18th century and Renaissance English literature, colonial Georgiana, works re: American Indians, and significant literary, economic, and historical titles.

Collection Development Policy | Evaluating Rarity
Links to Related Resources

Collection Development Policy

Georgia State University Library acquires, preserves, and makes available for research those books which, because of their rarity, value, or significance in the building of research collections, are housed and serviced as a Rare Book Collection. Formerly known as the Treasure Collection, the Rare Book Collection is a unit of the Special Collections Department.

The Rare Book Collection is an integral part of the University’s teaching and research mission. It supports undergraduate- and graduate-level curricula, particularly degree programs in English, History, and Art. Students and instructors use the collection for classes and projects relating to bibliography, the English novel, eighteenth century British literature, historical research methodology, early English history, and nineteenth century American history. The collection also provides material for scholarly research in Southern (especially Georgia) history and literature, British and American history and literature, the American Renaissance, Native American studies, and the history of the book. Scholarly works based on rare book holdings include books produced by well-known national and foreign publishers, exhibits by foreign consulates, dissertations, undergraduate and graduate research papers, the publication of collected works, and historic preservation projects.

This policy outlines general guidelines for the Rare Book Collection and notes particular areas or authors which the library has chosen to collect in first, variant, and special editions.

Collection Guidelines
Decisions about rarity vary between institutions. Evaluating and identifying books as rare requires the exercise of judgment, familiarity with the rare book trade and profession, and knowledge of use patterns and research trends.

The primary method of acquisition is by transfer from the circulating collection of the library. Donations of materials appropriate to the Rare Book Collection will also be accepted. In selecting titles for purchase, emphasis will be placed on meeting the curricular and research needs of the collection’s primary users. The collecting areas of nearby institutions will also be considered when evaluating materials for purchase, transfer, or donation. Autographed books will rarely be added if the autograph is the only noteworthy feature.

Categories and Characteristics
The following categories and characteristics are considered when books are evaluated for inclusion in the Rare Book Collection. The presence of one or more of these characteristics ensures that the book will be brought to the attention of the Rare Book Curator, but it does not automatically ensure that the book will be added to the collection.

A. Formats and Physical Characteristics

  1. Fine facsimiles of important primary sources or research texts
  2. First editions of significance, chiefly literary; books inscribed or autographed by persons of some significance
  3. Items of esthetic importance, including fine printing, exceptional illustrations by important artists, notable bindings, or extra-illustrated volumes
  4. Special presses of particular interest (e.g., Bozart Press)
  5. Bibliographic interests because of physical characteristics (e.g., pirated edition, watermarks, or books that present puzzles to the bibliophile)

B. Subject Areas

  1. Americana, particularly books published in or about Georgia or by Georgia authors
  2. Americans before 1870, especially travel, settlement, politics, biography, city and county histories
  3. Confederate State imprints between 1861 and 1865
  4. Selected contemporary Southern writers, such as Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams
  5. Early British classics in philosophy, history, or literature

C. Geographical Guidelines

Georgia and the Southeastern United States are emphasized in all selection and transfers.

D. Imprint Dates

  1. All books printed before 1800
  2. English books printed prior to 1800
  3. American books printed before 1870

E. Languages

English is the most commonly collected language, but materials are collected in the romance languages if appropriate to the subject area.

Considerations in Evaluating Rarity

A. Variables: ordinary today, rare tomorrow

  1. collecting policy
  2. locality
  3. collecting trends (fashion)
  4. critical esteem/scholarly evaluation (reputation)
  5. passing of time
  6. effects of time, accidents, catastrophes

B. Factors helping to define rarity

  1. age–early and important imprint dates (“incunabula”)
  2. irreplaceability–scarcity (limited editions; first editions)
  3. uniqueness or association value (the owner; the collector; the collection aesthetic importance and interest fine printing; exceptional illustrations; beautiful bindings; special presses; extra-illustrated books)
  4. local or archival interest
  5. cost–“market value”
  6. physical condition

“Simply stated, rare books are uncommon books. More specifically, rare books are identified by their contents or physical characteristics which command more than ordinary attention among book collectors, librarians, scholars, and booksellers. Neither rarity nor age alone can determine the value of a book; there are literally thousands of old books which have no value. When, however, a book possessing either or both of these qualities contains additional significant features which make it both unusual and of great interest, then it may be considered valuable.

Many qualities can make a book unusual and interesting. A beautiful or peculiar binding, typographical excellence, and illustrations by a noted engraver are a few of the external characteristics which influence value. Previous ownership by a distinguished person frequently lends luster to an otherwise prosaic volume. But the contents of a book and the esteem with which it is regarded are controlling factors in determining whether or not a book is properly considered a rarity.”

It should be considered rare if everyone wants it; it is difficult to get; or it is held in esteem as valuable or important.

Links to Related Rare Book Resources

American Library Association, Rare Books and Manuscripts Section
American Antiquarian Society
American Printing History Association
Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America
Center for the History of the Book