Special Collections

Tisch Library’s Special Collection consists of more than 9000 rare books that range in date from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. The oldest complete book in the collection is a 13th Century Latin Bible copied in Paris. Tisch holds fragments of medieval manuscripts dating as far back as the 12th century. [See "Hidden Treasure" for more on our fragment collection.]

Highlights include the library of the founding president of Tufts, Hosea Ballou (1796-1861); the Edwin Courtlandt Bolles (1836-1920) collection on the history of London; the Frederic Louis Ritter (1834-1891) music collection; and the poetry collection of Tufts professor and distinguished American poet John Holmes (1904-1962). The libraries of two 19th century Tufts College trustees are represented extensively in Special Collections:  The Rev. William N. Ryder and The Hon. Richard Frothingham, Jr.

The core of the collection, and the development that spurred the systematic collecting and study of rare books at Tufts, is the donation of Walter F. Welch, Jr., Class of 1928. Between 1953 and the mid-1960s, the bibliophile Welch donated hundreds of items to the Eaton and Wessell Libraries. Although documentation of his gift is not comprehensive, Welch is known or presumed to have donated ten Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, dozens of manuscript and early printed book fragments, early printed books on various subjects, important editions of 19th and 20th century literature, and books about the history of writing and printing.  [See "Fall Exhibitions Shine Light On Rare Books & An Elusive Donor" for more on Welch and his donations.]

These collections are the basis on which the current rare books program is built and is growing. Tisch Library Special Collections supports research and instruction in the departments of Art History, Classics, English, History, Political Science, and Romance Languages, while encouraging participation from all disciplines. Current collecting focuses on Medieval manuscripts and facsimiles, early modern science and medicine, travel and exploration, political philosophy, and the history of the book, among other topics. Tisch Library Special Collections staff collaborates with faculty members to develop research and instructional opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students focused on rare books.

For more information about Special Collections, please contact Christopher Barbour, Curator of Rare Books. Sample images from the collections are available on flickr, and current developments may be followed on Twitter.

Most books listed in the Tufts catalog with the location “Tisch Library Special Collections” may be called up in the DCA Reading Room on Level G of Tisch Library, Monday – Friday, 9:00 – 4:00 p.m. Exceptions include manuscripts and manuscript and early printed book fragments. To study these, please make an appointment with the Curator of Rare Books.


7:45am - 9:00pm