Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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The Ransom Center Book and Periodical Collections

Jeweled book binding. Click to enlarge.

Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh (1860)
in Cosway binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

History of the Rare Books Collection

In 1918, The University of Texas acquired the 6,000-volume library of John Henry Wrenn, a Chicago book collector who specialized in English literature. Acquisitions of the period 1920-1957 included the libraries of George A. Aitken and R. H. Griffith, which established the University's strengths in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the wide-ranging collection of Miriam Lutcher Stark, with important first editions and manuscripts of the Romantic and Victorian writers.

The rare books collection entered a new era in 1957, the year in which the Humanities Research Center was founded by Dr. Harry Ransom, then the University's Provost and later its President and Chancellor. Two large acquisitions early in the Center's history placed the University at the forefront of American research libraries. The Edward Alexander Parsons collection of some 50,000 volumes contained incunabula, materials on printing history, art, and early Louisiana imprints. The enormous T. Edward Hanley library, with its wealth of 20th-century manuscripts (notably those of G. B. Shaw and D. H. Lawrence) and rare books, established the Center as a leading library for the study of modern English and American literature. The Alfred and Blanche Knopf library, containing copies inscribed by Knopf authors and many fine press books, arrived in 1959. During the 1960s and early 1970s, the collections underwent explosive growth, as the Center added to its existing strengths and established new collecting areas. The Center complemented its extensive manuscript collections of Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Morley, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and others with the purchase of the authors' own libraries. The same year the Center acquired the extensive book and manuscript collections of Carlton Lake, encompassing modern French literature from Charles Baudelaire to the middle of the 20th century.

In 1972, the rare books collection in the University's Main Building and the modern literature collections in the Academic Center were consolidated and moved to a new Humanities Research Center building. Among the notable book collections acquired in the 1980s were the Robert Lee Wolff collection of 19th-century British fiction and the Pforzheimer library of English Literature. A particular focus of the last fifteen years at the Ransom Center has been the acquisition of first editions by over 550 major English and American authors of the post-1950 period. Today, the Ransom Center collections contain about 800,000 volumes.

The Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed with movable type, is the most valuable single item in the collections. Other highlights include the first book printed in English (Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, 1473-74), copies printed on vellum and blue paper by Aldus Manutius, the first editions of Sir Philip Sidney, John Milton, and many other English authors in the Pforzheimer library, the Shakespeare First Folio (3 copies), the exceptionally scarce first edition (1865) of Alice in Wonderland, and 36 complete copies of the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses.


The Aitken and Griffith collections, noted above, formed the core of what is now recognized as one of the best collections of English newspapers and journals of the 17th and 18th centuries. In later years, runs of the major little magazines of the early twentieth century (Poetry, Others, The Little Review, Laughing Horse) were added, documenting the early history of modernism. The Center holds excellent collections of “periodical appearances” by its major authors.


Brief descriptions of some of the principal collections appear here. The Guide to the Collections provides a subject approach to printed materials.


For general information about the Reading and Viewing Rooms, policies, and hours of operation, see Using the Ransom Center Collections. This page also includes information on requesting copies and the use of images from books.

Most of the Center's book holdings are searchable on the UT Library Catalog, although some individual items in a few collections (for example, Spanish Sueltas, English and Dutch Prize Bindings, and Dime Novels cannot be searched online because they are cataloged at the collection level. Users are encouraged to contact curators for assistance with complex or specialized searches involving provenance or binding information.

While entries for Ransom Center periodicals (magazines and journals) appear in the UT Library Catalog, information about specific issues is available only by searching the Periodicals online database.

Library staff are pleased to answer reference questions regarding our printed materials, but we are unable to evaluate or appraise the value of personal rare or used books; please contact a local library for information about antiquarian booksellers in your area who may be able to assist you, or see the online publication Your Old Books, produced by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association.


The Reading Room Will Be Closed:

Monday, May 27
Thursday, July 4

Always closed on Sundays

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