Comprising approximately 12,900 volumes, the rare book collection contains books, broadsides, maps, and other printed material covering a wide variety of subjects and eras. Particular subject strengths include the history of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and North Carolina; American and British literature; African American history; theology and religion; and children’s literature. Though the majority of imprints date from 1800 to the present, the collection contains a substantial number of books from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, many of which exemplify distinctive early printing, lithography, and binding techniques.
Among the highlights of the collection are:
- A 1471 Latin edition of sermons on the Book of Job by John Chrysostom, the oldest book in the collection.
- The Princess Augusta Sophia Collection of English Drama, a group of more than 800 plays published from 1618 to 1826 that were originally assembled by the daughter of King George III and Queen Charlotte of England. Complementing other rare book holdings in eighteenth century literature, the collection provides a revealing window onto the literary tastes and reading habits of the era.
- Early editions of works by Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, and other formerly enslaved people.
- An extensive collection of children’s literature that includes early hornbooks and primers, nineteenth and early twentieth century storybooks, and early editions of the Wizard of Oz and other works by L. Frank Baum.
- Nineteenth and twentieth-century American literature, including a first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and early signed editions of works by William Faulkner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, and Robert Frost.
- Facsimile reprints that permit access in proxy form to a range of rare books and manuscript materials, ranging from the first folio of Shakespeare to the Bay Psalm book to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Other important holdings chart the history and culture of Charlotte during the nineteenth century and the civil rights era, the explosive growth of the Charlotte region after World War II, and the era of urban renewal that brought dislocating change to Charlotte and led to the destruction of historic African-American neighborhoods.