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Rare Books and Special Collections Descriptions

The rare books housed in the Burns Library are organized according to specific subject areas. Users can search for materials of interest in the Holmes Library Catalog. For more information contact the Burns Library reference staff. A descriptive list of the subject areas is provided below.

Balkan Collection

The collection consists of over 3,500 volumes of 19th and 20th century Romanian works largely from the private collections of Professors Radu Florescu and John Campbell. In addition it includes some 2,100 volumes representing the output of St. Kliment Ohridski University Press from its founding in 1986 to the present.


British Catholic Authors Collection

The British Catholic Authors Collection features the manuscripts and published works of leading Catholic writers in the British Isles from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Noted especially for its extensive holdings on Francis Thompson, Hilaire Belloc, and Graham Greene, this collection also boasts strong holdings on John Henry Newman, Coventry Patmore, Alice and Wilfrid Meynell, Edith Sitwell, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Maurice Baring, G. K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, David Jones, Eric Gill, Elizabeth Jennings, Peter Levi, Philip Caraman, Frederick Copleston, and Brocard Sewell. The Collection also includes impressive holdings on British Catholic publishers, such as the Burns, Oates and Washbourne Press. See also the Manuscript Collection listing.


Burns and Oates Collection

Comprising over 6000 titles, this collection consists of the file-copy library maintained by the prominent English Catholic publishing house which was official publisher in England to the Holy See. Publication dates range from 1848 to the 1950's. Founded in 1848 in London by James Burns (1808-1871) a Glasgow educated son of a Presbyterian minister who converted to Catholicism in 1845, the press published John Henry Newman's religious novel Loss and Gain as its first work. It became Burns and Lambert, then Burns, Lambert and Oates and then Burns, Oates, and Washbourne before returning to Burns and Oates. Wilfrid Meynell and his son Francis, who founded the Nonesuch Press, were associated with the press, as was the important typographer and historian of printing, Stanley Morison.


Detective Fiction Collection

Anchored by the Rex Stout Collection, this collection seeks to document the history of American detective fiction. It is complemented by the Stout archive which represents the best collection in existence of the personal papers, literary manuscripts, and published works of Stout, creator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries.


Fine Print Collection

This collections consists of the output of a number of small presses, including some hand presses, known for the quality of their workmanship and design. It subsumes a number of smaller named presses such as the Aylesford Press, the Golden Cockerel Press, the Nonesuch Press, St. Dominic's Press, the September Press, the Skelton Press, and the Stanbrook Abbey Press.


General Collection

The General Collection consists of miscellaneous works housed in the John J. Burns Library because of their date of publication, their rarity or intrinsic value, their fragility, or their relationship to other named collections.


Irish Collection

The Irish Collection at Burns is widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind outside Ireland. Noted early on for its strong holdings of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals and landholding records documenting Irish history and society from the late 1700's to the present, the Collection in recent years has made impressive gains in the areas of literature, art (especially the book arts), music, agricultural history, and economic history. Its literary collections of Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney, for example, are ranked among the best in the world. To promote greater awareness and use of the impressive holdings, the University in 1991 established The Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies Chair, which is open on an annual basis to scholars who have distinguished themselves in the areas of Irish history, culture, and life. See also Irish Music Center Named Collections.


Jesuitica Collection

The Jesuitica Collection contains more than 2,500 volumes published by or about the Jesuits prior to the order's suppression in 1773. This collection documents the varied and significant contributions of Jesuits to a wide range of disciplines in the early modern period, including many rare and seminal works in the fields of mathematics, science, history, travel, philosophy and Biblical exegesis. In addition to printed books, the collection also includes original letters of St. Francis Xavier, St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Francis Borgia. A printed catalogue of this collection was published in 1986. See also the Manuscripts Collection listing.


Liturgy and Life Collection

This collection was established by the Boston College theologian and liturgical specialist William J. Leonard, S.J. in 1978 to document the liturgical movement in the American Catholic Church from 1925 to the introduction of the Second Vatican Council's reforms. The collection has grown exponentially to include some 30,000 volumes, and is considered to be the most comprehensive archive in America on the pre-Vatican Catholic Church. The book collection is complemented by sizable holdings of manuscripts, pamphlets, ephemera, artifacts, and photographs.  


Named Collections

John E. E. Dalberg Acton, Maurice Baring, Hilaire Belloc, Belloc/Kingsland, Robert Hugh Benson, Orestes Brownson, Phillip Caraman, Joyce Cary, G. K. Chesterton, James Brendan Connolly, Frederick Copleston, Christopher Dawson, Cecil Day Lewis, Enid Dinnis, Dolmen Press, Alfred Bruce Douglas, Theodore Dreiser, Eleanor Early, Eleanor Farjeon, Leonard Feeney, S.J., Michael Field, Foulis Press, Pamela Frankau, Freemasonry, Eric Gill, David Goldstein, Graham Greene, Seamus Heaney, Christopher Hollis, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Caryll Houselander, Incunabula, Japanese Art, Elizabeth Jennings, David Jones, Sheila Kaye-Smith, John F. Kennedy, Allan P. Kirby (American detective fiction), Ronald Knox, Shane Leslie, Peter Levi, C. S. Lewis, Robert Lowell, Arnold Lunn, Compton MacKenzie, Ethel Mannin, C. C. Martindale, Joseph McCarthy, Vincent McNabb, Thomas Merton, Alice Meynell, Wilfrid Meynell, John B. Morton, John Henry Newman, Nonesuch Press, Coventry Patmore, Basil Pennington, Rare Books, James W. Riley, Bruce Rogers, Siegfried Sassoon, Brocard Sewell, Joseph Coolidge Shaw, Edith Sitwell, Osbert Sitwell, Sacheverell Sitwell, Stanbrook Abbey Press, Rex Stout, Francis Thompson, George F. Trenholm, Wilfrid Ward, Alec Waugh, Auberon Waugh, Evelyn Waugh, Dorothy Wayman, Weston School of Theology, John Wieners, A. N. Wilson, Douglas Woodruff, and W. B. Yeats. See also the Manuscripts Collection listing.


Nursing Collection

This is a collection of several hundred volumes which are important to the study of the history and ethics of the Nursing profession. See also the Manuscripts Collection listing.


Salem Divines Collection

Consisting of some 1,400 volumes, this collection belonged to the First Church of Christ, Salem, one of the earliest Congregationalist churches in the new world. Beginning with the books donated by the Rev. John Prince, pastor of the church in the early 19th century, the library was added to by several successive pastors of the church. Its range reflects the transition from Puritan Congregationalism to Unitarian rationalism, elucidating an important part of the history of Protestantism in Massachusetts.


Nicholas M. Williams Ethnological Collection

Assembled by the Jesuit missionary and ethnologist, Joseph J. Williams, S.J., and named in honor of his father, this collection includes more than 10,000 volumes documenting the history, life, and culture of the people of Jamaica and their African antecedents. It also includes the largest manuscript collection of Anansi folk tales in existence.