The rare books at J. Murrey Atkins Library's Special Collections and University Archives are listed in the library catalog. They can be found on the 10th floor of the library in the special collections reading room.
Comprising approximately 12,900 volumes, the rare book collection contains books, broadsides, maps, and other printed material covering a wide variety of subjects and eras. Particular subject strengths include the history of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and North Carolina; American and British literature; African American history; theology and religion; and children’s literature. Though the majority of imprints date from 1800 to the present, the collection contains a substantial number of books from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, many of which exemplify distinctive early printing, lithography, and binding techniques.
Among the highlights of the collection is the Princess Augusta Sophia Collection of English Drama, a group of more than 800 plays published from 1618 to 1826 that were originally assembled by the daughter of King George III and Queen Charlotte of England. Complementing other rare book holdings in eighteenth century literature, the collection provides a revealing window onto the literary tastes and reading habits of the era. Also noteworthy is an extensive collection of children’s literature that includes early hornbooks and primers, nineteenth and early twentieth century storybooks, and early editions of the Wizard of Oz and other works by L. Frank Baum. The rare book collection’s extensive holdings in nineteenth and twentieth century American literature include a first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and early signed editions of works by William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, and Robert Frost, while rare early editions of works by Frederick Douglass, Phillis Wheatley, and Sojourner Truth are illustrative of the collection’s strengths in African American history and literature. A rich group of facsimile reprints permit access in proxy form to a range of rare books and manuscript materials, ranging from the first folio of Shakespeare to the Bay Psalm book to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The oldest book in the collection is a 1471 Latin edition of sermons on the Book of Job by John Chrysostom.
Other important holdings in the collection chart the history and culture of Charlotte during the nineteenth century and the civil rights era and the explosive growth of the Charlotte region after World War II. These include books from the private libraries of noteworthy local families such as the Caldwell-Davidsons of Rosedale Plantation and the Davidsons of Rural Hill; the personal library of humorist and civil rights figure Harry Golden, which documents his tentacular connections with the leading cultural and literary figures of his day; numerous city and county materials related to the urban renewal project that brought upheaval and growth to Charlotte in the 1960s and 1970s; and works associated with Wilmington 10 and Charlotte Three members Benjamin Chavis and T.J. Reddy.