Rare Book Department

The Rare Book Department is temporarily closed.

Monday, November 30 – Message from Staff

The Rare Book Department is happy to help with any questions at erefrbd@freelibrary.org.

January 15 update: Rare Book Department staff is working onsite. Please email or call us (M-F 9-5) at 215-686-5416 for assistance. The department remains closed to the public.

Upcoming Events

Collectors' Showcase: Philadelphians Collect Black Writers

Wed, February 17, 2021 7:00 P.M.

The Rare Book Department is thrilled to host five local collectors who have spent years preserving and celebrating the work of Black writers and artists. Join Gloria Akers, Supreme Dow, Oliver St. Clair Franklin OBE, Bea Joyner, and Frank Tyson to hear about their amazing collections and how…

January 15, 2021 update:

Please note: While the Rare Book Department is currently closed to the public, staff are working onsite. We are available by phone (215-686-5416) M-F 9-5 and email. Currently, no in-person appointments, programs, or tours are available but check out our virtual programming.

*** For virtual fun: visit our Digital Repository to find games, activities, and more relating to Special Collections. ***


We are saddened not to be able to welcome you to our gallery for Medieval Life: European Manuscripts from Philadelphia Collections. But the Free Library Digital team has created a wonderful mini-exhibit that we hope you will explore. And of course, we encourage you to search the BiblioPhilly portal to see the breadth and variety of European manuscripts in Philadelphia that inspired Medieval Life. Virtual programs related to Medieval Life are scheduled through the end of January 2021.


New Program Alert!

"Story Search from Special Collections" is a podcast series exploring stories based on, inspired by, or connected to the material objects we have here in the Free Library's Special Collections. Listen and subscribe to previous episodes on Anchor or Spotify. And for further reading, check out the book lists we've made of FLP resources related to each episode.


Who We Are and What We Do

The Rare Book Department offers free access to exhibitions of historically important books, manuscripts, and works of art from 3,000 BCE to today. Among its collections are thousands of illuminated medieval manuscripts and cuttings; first editions, letters, and manuscripts of important writers, including some of the largest collections of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe; nearly 50,000 early American children's books; original artwork by Beatrix Potter and other illustrators; Mughal court paintings; and Pennsylvania German fraktur, manuscripts, and printed books. Many, but not all, of the Rare Book Department's holdings have been cataloged, but please feel free to contact us for more information about our holdings.

Group visits and educational programs are available by prior arrangement and researchers are invited to make an appointment to use collection materials. Guided tours of the department and the William McIntire Elkins Library are offered Monday through Saturday at 11:00 a.m. with no appointment necessary. For our friends on social media, highlights from our collections are regularly posted to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. You can reach the Rare Book Department at 215-686-5416 or by email, or check out some of our most frequently asked questions.