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Early Printed Books (1501-1800)

A guide to The Huntington's collection of books printed in Britain and North America before 1801.

A choice of emblemesThe Huntington Library holds a significant collection of items printed before 1801 in the British Isles or the English colonies, including North America, and books in languages of the British Isles printed or published anywhere.

The collecting of works on early Anglo-American history, literature and culture was perhaps the central focus of Henry Huntington's library-building. Today, The Huntington is one of the world's major repositories for these items. Here may be found 73 Shakespeare quartos published before 1641, the earliest complete copy of "Everyman," the unique copy of the first published laws of Massachusetts and William Blake's first experimental illuminated books. In all, The Huntington has at least one copy of over 94,000 early Anglo-American editions in this period.

The Huntington has been called "a library of libraries," and various components of the early book collection are sometimes referred to as separate entities. Examples include the James R. Page collection of the Book of Common Prayer, the Francis Bacon library, the Bridgewater library and the Burndy library. While these separate fonds can usually be collocated intellectually with a catalog search, for the purpose of research they all form part of one overarching collection.

Image credit: George Whitney, A choice of emblemes, and other devises, 1568. RB 79714. Bookplate of Robert Hoe.

Discovery

The Huntington Library Catalog

A library catalog record exists for virtually every item in this scope. Descriptions were either downloaded from or based on the corresponding records in the English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC). Therefore, some understanding of ESTC helps interpret The Huntington's library catalog records.‚Äč This PDF file contextualizes ESTC and provides tips for searching the database for library materials.

Curatorial Files

The library maintains electronic files of copy-specific information on some heavily used and valuable books, such as the English incunabula and Shakespeare quartos. Card files in the department provide a partial index to former owners of early Anglo-American books. Contact the library for more information.

Early English Books Online (EEBO)
Based on microfilming projects that started in 1938, EEBO contains whole-copy images of Anglo-American books from the beginning of printing through 1700. This PDF file includes tips for searching EEBO for Huntington Library materials.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
Continues the coverage of EEBO through the 18th century. Refer to this PDF file for assistance using ECCO alongside ESTC.

The English Broadside Ballad Archive
Contains images from the Huntington's rare English broadsides, including those from the Bindley, Britwell and Bridgewater collections. Maintained by the Early Modern Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The William Blake Archive
Includes images of William Blake's illuminated books in The Huntington's collection.

N.B. EEBO and ECCO are subscription databases available to registered readers. Current readers can log in to subscription databases using their My Library account.

Access

Early Anglo-American books may be paged to the Ahmanson Reading Room through Aeon. Learn how to request materials through Aeon by visiting our Researching at The Huntington guide.

The Printed Books collection on The Huntington Digital Library contains images of selected unique or significant items in The Huntington's collection.

Related Research Guides

Incunabula
A guide to The Huntington's books printed in Europe, including England, before 1501.

The Bridgewater Library
A guide to The Huntington's Bridgewater library collection.