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Special Collections at Northern Illinois University


A special collection is created to keep together material in one subject area which would be scattered in the Library of Congress classification system or might otherwise not meet the usual rare book criteria. Some of these collections may not show their "specialness" for years to come, but we are in the process of conserving them for future generations of researchers. RBSC has 42 different special collections, which fall into several broad categories: those based on individual authors, popular literature, particular subjects, and unusual formats.

While most of these materials are made available through our Online Catalog and finding aids, there are portions of our collections which are not fully processed. If you haven't quite found what you are looking for, please ask!

Individual Author Collections

In all of our author-based collections, we try to collect as comprehensively as possible from their work, materials both by and about our selected authors. Some of the author collections include manuscript materials as well; these are denoted with a *.

Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899)*: all-time, best-selling American boy’s series writer. RBSC is also the repository for the Horatio Alger Society. Our Alger collection is the most comprehensive collection of Alger materials in the world.

Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979): British author and illustrator.

William Blake (1757-1827): British poet and illustrator.

Robert Burns (1759-1796): Scottish poet.

George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824): English Romantic Poet.

Alan Denson (b. 1930)*: British author, known for his book Letters from AE. This collection contains some 36 books and several envelopes of manuscripts and letters relating to 20th-Century Anglo-Irish writers, including George Russel and A.E. Denson's correspondence with writers and notes are indexed. Some materials have restricted use. Books from this collection can be found in the Online Catalog; a finding aid for the manuscripts is not yet available online, but a card file is available on-site.

John Dos Passos (1896-1970): American novelist.

Graham Greene (1904-1991): British novelist.

James Hanley (1901-1985)*: British novelist. A collection of manuscripts (some unpublished) and most editions of the books by James Hanley (1901-1985). The collection is indexed with a finding list in the Rare Books & Special Collections Department. There is also an inventory available as a .pdf file.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)*: American novelist.

Willard Motley (1909-1965)*: African-American novelist from Chicago. A finding aid for his papers, held here at NIU, is available.

Vincent Starrett (1886-1974): Chicago Renaissance journalist, mystery, and suspense writer.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667): Anglican bishop and theologian.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892): American poet.

Angus Wilson (1913-1991): British novelist and essayist.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850): British poet.

Popular Literature Collections

We have several complementary popular literature collections, which help us to conserve aspects of popular publishing from the rough period 1840-1920, and 1920 to the present. We also have a small group of popular literature related links.


During this earlier period, dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and story papers proliferated, as the reading population grew steadily. These books were closely followed by series literature for children, along with early magazines. Most of the materials in RBSC collections are American, but some are British. Rare Books and Special Collections has collected over 50,000 titles in these areas.

Horatio Alger Society Repository NIU has the largest collection of materials related to Horatio Alger, Jr. in the country, and is the official repository of the Horatio Alger Society.

American Popular Literature Collection: The American Popular Literature Collection is comprised of mass-appeal publications issued in America from approximately 1840 - 1940. The collection includes first or early editions of best-sellers by both American and British authors of this period. Among the childrens' authors represented in this collection are Victor Appleton (Tom Swift books), Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan books), Stella M. Francis (Campfire Girls series), Oliver Optic (various boys' series), and Helen Louise Thorndyke (Honey Bunch series), to name only a few. Also included are popular history, gift books, poetry, periodicals such as Chatterbox and Frank Leslie's serials, and other publications that were best-sellers or designed for mass audiences.

Albert Johannsen Dime Novel Collection: The working collection of Albert Johannsen, author of the seminal multivolume bibliography The House of Beadle and Adams. An electronic version of his bibliography is available here. Permission to reproduce images or text from this bibliography must be obtained from the University of Oklahoma Press, which still holds the copyright. Their contact information can be found here.

Edward T. LeBlanc Collection: The working bibliographical collection of Edward T. LeBlanc, one of the foremost bibliographers and scholars of dime novels.

Merriwell Collection: A comprehensive collection of the novels featuring Frank Merriwell.

Edward Stratemeyer Collection: A collection of first editions of the series novels written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. This collection was purchased through the Friends of the NIU Libraries.


As an extension of our popular literature collection, RBSC also holds more modern popular reading materials, such as pulp science fiction and western magazines and comic books. There is also a small collection of original art by comics creators.

The basis for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature collection are books nominated for the Nebula Awards, donated by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). These are complemented by our science fiction magazines and the literary papers of 55 science fiction and fantasy writers..


Popular Literature Links:

Subject Collections

African-American: A collection of books and other materials in all subject areas by and about African Americans and other people of African descent throughout the world. Special emphases are placed on African-American history, civil rights movements in the United States, literature by African-American authors and pamphlets by African-American authors on slavery, emancipation and the African-American experience in the United States. The Willard Motley papers complement this collection.

Art and History of the Book: (Book Arts and Private Press Collections): these collections help to illustrate the art and science of fine printing and bookmaking. The Book Arts Collection brings together the work of famous printers, type designers, book designers, book artists, and illustrators. The Private Press Collection is a growing collection of material issued by private presses, particularly in the Midwest.

Autographed Books: A heterogeneous autographed collection of authors, writers and artists which has no existing special collection of its own. These authors, writers and artists are either famous or have received special achievement or literary awards in their respective fields. Limited editions with authors' autographs are also included in this collection. Since September 1993, the University Press of Northern Illinois University has deposited a copy of all of its publications to expand this collection. These materials are searchable in our Online Catalog.

Chess Magazines:The Rare Books & Special Collections Department is a depository for the U.S. Chess Federation and its Midwestern regional chapters. We receive a variety of newspapers and magazines from these chapters on a sporadic basis.

Historic Scenic Collection Archives: This collection contains the scenes, costumes, maquettes and archival material of the Chicago Civic Opera, reflecting the productions of the Opera for the period 1910-1931. It consists of production notebooks, programs, photographs, touring information, drawings, inventory records and funding lists, correspondence, expense records, design plates, pictorial source material, and miscellaneous. One-hundred and seventy-nine especially noteworthy production notebooks that reflect the productions of seventy-seven operas in great detail are part of this collection. This collection is the archival supplement to the Historic Scenic Collection held by the College of Visual and Performing Arts at NIU. Much of this material is unprocessed; please ask for assistance in using this collection.

Colorado-Henkle: A comprehensive collection of Colorado-related materials, dealing with all aspects of the state of Colorado, including early travel narratives, history, literature, ecology, geology, maps, and bibliography.

Drama collections: The Nisbet-Snyder and University Drama collections combine to provide a collection of some 2,000 late 18th Century and 19th Century English and American plays, many of them acting copies or annotated prompt books. Included in this collection are also programs from the St. James Theatre in London from 1879-1888. These collections are in the process of being cataloged electronically; a paper finding aid is available; please ask for assistance in using this collection.

Fine Arts: A collection of catalog raisonnées of various artists, as well as other art books containing porfolios of loose plates that are not suitable for circulation. These materials are searchable in our Online Catalog.

Gender Studies: A growing collection of books, manuscripts, and other materials pertaining to gender studies, including gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, and women’s studies. Special emphases is placed on gender studies materials as they relate to religious organizations, winners and nominees of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Lammie Awards, and winners and nominees of the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table (GLBTRT) Awards, now called the Stonewall Award. Emphases will also include periodicals of the Midwest not already held in microfilm. Also includes first editions, limited editions and signed copies whenever possible. Materials include and supplement items in the In All Things Charity Collection on homosexuality and religion, and other items already held in Rare Books and Special Collections.

Radical Pamphlets Collection: American publications, ca. 1880-1980, by or about the radical labor movement, socialists, communists, and the radical right (including American Nazis). Some of the writings of Jack London are included. A few materials on India's nonviolent struggle for independence; revolutions in China, Cuba, and Spain; Sacco and Vanzetti; sharecroppers; publications of the National Jewish Welfare Board; free speech; civil liberties; Industrial Workers of the World; ACLU; J. Edgar Hoover; the Paris Commune; war resistance; and the Haymarket Riots are also represented in the collection. This collection is in the process of being cataloged electronically; a card file is available; please ask for assistance in using this collection.

Southeast Asia: An extension of our circulating Southeast Asia Collection, this is the non-circulating portion of the collection. It includes original palm leaf manuscripts, field notes, materials with controversial religious or political content, old or scarce books, large and expensive illustrated folios and the like.

Format-based collections

These collections are not always specifically subject-based, but are often a combination of subjects in a particular format.

Japanese Woodblock Prints: Tobin and Van Zelst Collections. A collection of materials on Japanese woodblock prints collected by James D. Tobin, specializing in prints of the late Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods (from about 1890). Included in this collection are books on prints, photographs and negatives, extensive notes, rare brochures and catalogs, correspondence, and some tapes and films made at conferences. The Van Zelst Collection complements the collection by documenting the lives and works of Japanese woodblock printers Un-ichi Hiratsuka and his daughter Keiko Moore,including personal letters between the two families, exhibition materials, materials on printmaking, and catalogs of Hiratsuka's works. An inventory of the Van Zelst Collection is available.

Manuscripts: Rare Books and Special Collections currently has little material that would fall into this classification without being assigned to the Archives. Nonetheless, we have provided for a collection of individual pieces or small groups of letters, ledger books, and other manuscript documents which are judged to be worth preserving but do not form a large enough body of material to form their own Special Collection. This includes manuscript materials found in our books, as well as an archive of The Review, a British "little magazine" from the 1960s. A finding aid is not yet available for the Manuscripts collection as a whole, but individual finding aids may be available.

Maps: A collection of rare and historical maps from all over the world from the 16th through 19th centuries. There is a special emphasis on maps from Southeast Asia. Many of our maps have been digitized.

Music Manuscript Collections: A collection of cello music previously held by Raya Garbousova, original manuscripts by Frank Skinner, and other sheet music. Materials in the Garbousova collection of music for cello performance along with some exercises for the cello. There is a particular emphasis on works for solo cello and cello with piano accompaniment. Many items have Ms. Garbousova's annotations and cello bowings. There are a small number of ephemeral materials related to the Cello Congress. The Frank Skinner Collection consists of musical scores from motion pictures. With one exception, they are all original pencil manuscripts in Skinner's hand. The exception is Magnificent Obsession, which is an ozalid copy of a studio copyist's manuscript. Excepting My Man Godfrey and Written on the Wind, which are fragments, the scores are believed to be complete representations of all the music Skinner wrote for the respective films.

Last Updated:July 24, 2013