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Rare Book Collection

Rare Book Reading Room, Internal

The Rare Book Collection was begun in the mid-twentieth century by Mildred Bliss and reflects the areas of specialized research conducted at Dumbarton Oaks. The collection exists to acquire, arrange, describe, preserve, and make available books of enduring value, both for intellectual content and as historical artifacts, to support the research needs of scholars at Dumbarton Oaks and beyond. It has the responsibility to protect materials in its care from damage due to misuse, climatic conditions, pests or other agents of destruction, and from problems inherent in the volumes themselves. There is an active program of preservation and conservation. Additionally, it is engaged in the digitization of selected holdings to increase use and enhance access.

The holdings comprise more than ten thousand rare and unique materials (such as volumes, prints, drawings, photographs, musical scores, and blueprints). Transcribed selections from the autograph letter collection are available online. The Rare Book Collection also contains the Garden Archives, which makes over six thousand individual pieces of correspondence, drawings, and photographs publicly available.

The Rare Book Gallery features changing exhibitions of the library's holdings. Displays often highlight the collection of rare books, manuscripts, and drawings begun by Mildred Bliss, with advice from Beatrix Farrand, specifically in the field of landscape architecture, garden design, and garden history.

The nearby Rare Book Reading Room, of French eighteenth-century inspiration, was designed by Frederic Rhinelander King and completed in 1963. This room functions as a library reading room, as it did during Mrs. Bliss's era, and opens to the public from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Search the Rare Book Collection using HOLLIS, the Harvard libraries’ online catalog.

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Garden Archives

The Dumbarton Oaks Garden Archives makes publicly available over six thousand individual pieces of correspondence, drawings, and photographs. These original materials have been supplemented by histories of the garden areas, biographies of individuals and firms, and sections on contemporary art installations.

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Digitized Rare Books

Materials from the Rare Book Collection have been selectively digitized. Search the available titles by keyword or area of study. Full digital facsimiles are available for some titles.

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Autograph Letter Collection

The Rare Book Collection includes a remarkable assortment of autograph letters from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cultural notables. Taken together, the letters speak to the tastes and beliefs of the early twentieth century and to the question of who was thought to be a sufficiently important writer, artist, or thinker.

Seed Catalogues Tile

Seed Catalogues

The Rare Book Collection houses a small but significant collection of European and American seed catalogues.

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