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Rare Books and Special Collections At Northern Illinois University: Rare Books

A brief guide to Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University

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Rare Books at NIU

Our rare books collection totals over 10,000 volumes, in all subject areas, with a particular focus on 18th and 19th century English and American literature and history, as well as religion and the history of the book. Items are placed in the Rare Books collection for many reasons, including age, scarcity, condition, or source of acquisition. Please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for further details of what makes a book "rare".

The oldest extant items in our collection are several leaves from medieval manuscripts. We also hold facsimiles of important Medieval books such as the Book of Kells, The Durham Gospels, The Lorsch Gospels, the Belles Heures of the Duke of Berry, and the Ellesmere Chaucer.

The oldest printed book in our collection is De Humilitate Interiori. by Joannes Carthusiensis, which was published in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson in 1480. The oldest item in held in Rare Books and Special Collections is a cuneiform tablet that was created around 2000 BCE and is likely to be Sumerian.

We hold examples of books printed by many important printers and publishers from the Renaissance, the Restoration, and the Enlightenment, including Aldus Manutius, Paulus Manutius, Henri Estienne, the Plantin Press, Benjamin Franklin, and John Baskerville. Facsimiles of other important printed works include the Nuremburg Chronicles and the Kelmscott Chaucer. Pre-1800 book production is also illustrated by our working replica of a Common Press, located in our reading room. Examples of type, composing sticks, inks and rollers are also available.

Additionally, we hold examples of nineteenth century publishing such as books in parts, gift books, annuals, serials, and three-decker novels. These are in addition to our author collections, many of which feature examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century publishing practices, and our significant holdings in American Popular Culture such as dime novels and story papers. Bibliographers and bibliophiles may also wish to note that Rare Books is the custodian to a Hinman Collator and a Lindstrom Comparator.