Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department
Highlights of book history preserved for posterity
The Rare Book Department is a worthwhile adventure. It resides on the third floor of the grand Beaux Arts building that house the Free Library of Philadelphia. Ask at the information desk in the lobby for the elevator. When you arrive ring the entrance bell beside the glass door and brace yourself for a pleasant plunge into 4,000 years of history.
Samplings of the 100,000 books and manuscripts will be on view in cases strung along a hall that leads to the reading room. Poe was recently featured, but you might see illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, early American children’s books, Pennsylvania-German Fraktur or works by Charles Dickens, A. B. Frost, Munro Leaf or Howard Pyle.
When architects Horace Trumbauer’s and Julian Francis Abele’s building on Logan Circle opened in 1927, rare books were collected elsewhere in town. The Central Branch of the public library soon became a popular repository for everything from Sumerian cuneiform tablets to the works of Beatrix Potter. When the entire library of William McIntire Elkins, including the room that housed it, was given to the library in 1949, the Rare Book collection grew into a full-fledged department.
Open Mon – Fri. Tours available at 11 a.m., or by prior arrangement.
The Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia also boasts acclaimed specialty collections on automobiles, theater, music and children’s literature — to name just a few. Click here to learn more.
The mascot here is “Grip,” the Raven once owned by Charles Dickens and the source of Edgar Allan Poe’s inspiration for his famous poem published in 1845.