New York State Library
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Special Collections

The Manuscripts and Special Collections unit manages the Library's collections of manuscripts and personal papers, prints, posters, musical scores and rare books. These collections, which include some of New York's documentary treasures, relate the history of New York State from the 17th century to the present and provide insight into many topics related American history, literature, science and the arts.

New York State history is the major emphasis of the collection. However, many of the collections are of national interest because of the role New York State has played in the history of the United States.

Manuscripts and archives dating from the early 17th century to the present are available. These include the papers and records of individuals and organizations for most subjects, including social, art, political, military, environmental, family, religious, literary, and scientific history.

Some large research collections include:

Some Manuscripts and Special Collections Finding Aids are available on this web site; others are available with the collections.

Front cover of The Paris Cummune by Karl Marx

The Library's collection of rare books is international in scope, diverse in subject and dates from the earliest period of printing in the 15th century to the present. Particularly notable are the collections in:

  • New York State history
  • law, including
    • over 20 editions of Blackstone's Commentaries
    • a large part of the library of Chancellor James Kent
    • many editions of early English law and commentators
    • early laws and legislative proceedings for nearly all the states and territories
  • medicine
  • natural history, including
    • authors such as Catesby, Audubon, Michaux, Redouté, Sowerby, and Curtis
    • Biologia-Centrali-Americana survey
    • New York State Natural History Survey
  • pamphlets
  • almanacs (over 10,000 from the 17th to 20th centuries)
  • Shaker imprints
  • sermons
  • early newspapers, to the year 1821, of New York State cities and other places

Other smaller but notable collections include:

  • incunabula (books printed before 1500)
  • fine bindings
  • fine printing
  • fore-edge paintings
  • a collection of about 4,000 early 20th century polemic and radical political pamphlets (open for research with some access restrictions due to fragile condition)
  • 19th century children's books
  • trade catalogs of New York State companies
  • early travel accounts of New York State and the nation
map of the five nations of Iroquois in the northeast US

The State Library's cartographic collections contains material concerning the geography, history and geology of New York State, the United States and the world, including:

  • historical and geographic maps of New York State, its cities, towns and villages,
  • maps of the Northeastern United States and other states,
  • military maps of the American Revolution and Civil War,
  • political maps,
  • Sanborn insurance maps,
  • land patents, records and surveys,
  • manuscript maps of lands in New York State,
  • a complete collection of New York State county atlases from the late 19th century, and
  • European atlases from the 16th to 20th centuries.

The bulk of the collection consists of maps produced by the Federal and New York State government and received as part of the State Library's participation in the Federal Depository Library Program and the New York State Document Depository Program.

Annotated Bibliography of Selected New York State Maps: 1793-1900

The Annotated Bibliography highlights selected New York State Library holdings of sheet and roll maps of the whole of New York State and of some regions larger than counties, dating from the period 1793 to 1900.

The bibliography is preceded by an overview of cartography in New York in the nineteenth century.

The Library's graphics collections include pictorial materials related to the history and social life of New York State, with the bulk consisting of 19th century prints and 20th century postcards.

There are many photographs, including:

  • the Photograph Collection of the Delaware and Hudson Railway,
  • Seneca Ray Stoddard photographs of the Adirondacks, and
  • photo collections of the Hudson Valley and Catskill region.

There is some original art as well, including drawings by Native Americans Jesse Cornplanter and Howling Wolf and extensive mail art ("zines") dated ca. 1985-1992 in the Factsheet Five Collection.

Related Pages

Poster of Plattsbrg munitemen

The Posters/Broadsides Collection includes over 11,000 broadsides and posters from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, with a strong emphasis on New York State political, social and cultural history. Some topics with many broadsides include:

  • military history, including
    • the Civil War
    • World War I: nearly 5,000 posters published by most of the combatants in the war
    • World War II: about 800 United States posters
  • New York State politics
  • agricultural fairs
  • Shakers
  • theater posters
  • broadside ballads (narrative songs or poems printed on one side of a single sheet of paper )
  • 19th century New York State Newspaper Carrier Addresses (broadsides containing verse to be given away by the carriers at the New Year)

Bibliographic information for about 6,000 broadsides is in the online catalog.

Sample search:

  1. Go to https://nyst.sirsi.net.
  2. Click on the Login button.
  3. Click on the Power Search tab.
  4. In the TITLE dialogue box, type fair.
  5. Change the library: from ALL to Manuscripts and Special Collections.
  6. Change item type: from ANY to BROADSIDE.
  7. Click on the SEARCH button.

Posters produced by the Federal and New York State governments are acquired as part of the State Library's participation in the Federal Depository Library Program and the New York State Document Depository Program.

three score covers including Good Bye Alexander, Baltimore Blues, and You Can't Blame the Girlies At All

Sheet Music

Sheet music is one of the State Library's largest special collections: there are approximately 35,000 musical scores, dating from the 1790s to the 1970s, including a major collection of 20th-century scores. The range of subjects is very broad, although the principal emphasis of the collection is on New York State history and imprints.

Although New York City is often considered to be the heart of the music industry, the Library's collection shows that, for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, music publishing also flourished in Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and Troy, as well as in many smaller cities or towns in upstate New York. Included in the collection, for example, are scores from the early 1900s that were published by the Koninsky Music Company of Troy. There is also a rare copy of Please Say You Will, Scott Joplin's first published composition, which was printed in Syracuse in 1895, when Joplin visited the city as part of a musical touring group.

The State Library is still adding to its sheet music collection. The Theodore Roosevelt memorabilia collection, acquired in 1998, included some musical scores, and the Library has also been acquiring music relating to African-American history. Unusual New York State imprints are also of interest to the Library.


Other Collections

The library also collects 18th and 19th century sacred and secular singing books and instrumental preceptors, as well as songsters and opera librettos. Related manuscript materials include:

  • music copy books;
  • letters and papers of musicians, instrument makers and organizations;
  • Shaker manuscript hymnals;
  • the archives of the Meneely Bell Company of Watervliet, New York;
  • Players of the Century: the extra-illustrated 1880 edition of Henry Phelps' history of the Albany, New York stage
  • ephemera, such as posters, concert programs, and tickets, including the George Severance Collection of Theater and Concert Programs (1890-1950)


 

Last Updated: July 14, 2021