The Rare Books Collection, located on the sixth level of the Wise Library, contains old and rare books from the 1400s 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.
The keystone of the Rare Books Collection is the Arthur S. Dayton Collection. The Dayton Collection features Shakespeare's Four Folios (the most prized editions of his works), as well as dozens of the important 17th century to middle 20th century editions of his collected plays and poetry. Dayton's interest in the period during which Shakespeare lived and worked is evident in his collection of Classical and Elizabethan historical literature, the very works which Shakespeare used as resources; other Elizabethan works collected by Dayton include the literature of Shakespeare's contemporaries, such as Ben Jonson, George Peele, Robert Greene, Francis Beaumont, and John Fletcher. Dayton also collected the first editions of important 18th and 19th century British writers, most particularly Sir Walter Scott, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. Dayton's collection of the first editions of 19th century and early 20th century American authors is particularly notable for the great number of first editions and special printings of the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Other significant American authors whose first editions are found in the Dayton Collection include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Eugene Field, Joel Chandler Harris, Bret Harte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Booth Tarkington, and John Greenleaf Whittier.
The Rare Books Collection also holds first editions of numerous important authors, as diverse as John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regain'd, the acclaimed Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart, and Isaac Asimov, the prolific science fiction and science writer. A few of the particularly significant works from the Rare Books Collection are: the late fifteenth century illustrated history of the world popularly known as the Nuremberg Chronicle; the immensely influential Encyclopedie, edited by Denis Diderot from 1751 to 1772, which championed the Enlightenment and provided intellectual preparation for the French Revolution; Puritan clergyman Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana of 1702; and a first edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the worlds most famous detective. The first books printed in West Virginia and the earliest histories of frontier western Virginia are also housed in the Rare Books Collection.
Volumes in the Rare Books Collection may be used under supervision by researchers who agree to handle them with great care. To make arrangements to use a rare book, visit the West Virginia and Regional History Center, on the sixth floor of the Wise Library, or call (304) 293-3536.
The Health Sciences Library's rare volumes are housed in the McBee Collection which contains historical texts and treatises related to health care.
The Colborn Rare Book Room is found on the second floor of the Law Library. The collection includes volumes of legal scholarship and College of Law related memorabilia and gifts.