Rare Book Department

1901 Vine Street, Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Open today 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday Closed
Monday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Upcoming Closures

  • Fri., Mar. 29 : Closed Good Friday
  • Sun., Mar. 31 : Closed Easter
  • Mon., May. 27 : Closed Memorial Day
  • Wed., Jun. 19 : Closed Juneteenth
View all holiday closings

Upcoming Events

The Art and Influence of John Dowell

Now through Sat, March 2, 2024 5:00 P.M.

The Art and Influence of John Dowell  is the latest exhibition from the Free Library's Special Collections. The exhibition is on view Monday, October 2, 2023 through Saturday, March 2,…

Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Rare Book Department: Beyond Borneman

Wed, March 6, 2024 6:30 P.M.

Who was Henry S. Borneman and how did the Free Library of Philadelphia come to acquire his collection of Pennsylvania German manuscripts, fraktur, and imprints?  Learn about the history of…

Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Rare Book Department with a Behind-the-Scenes Evening Tour.

Wed, June 5, 2024 6:30 P.M.

Since  its opening in 1949 the Rare Book has offered free tours of its collections. Join us this evening for a fun, behind-the-scenes tour with your library guide who will also…

Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Rare Book Department: Viewing Historical Collections Through a Modern Lens.

Wed, August 7, 2024 6:30 P.M.

How have the ethics of book collecting, material donations, and bibliographic description changed in the 75 years the Rare Book Department has existed? And how do those changes affect how the…

Saturday Hours are Back!
The Rare Book Department is now open Saturdays from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. While here, enjoy a free tour of the department at 11:00 a.m.(no reservations required) or view the Art and Influence of John Dowell exhibition, which closes Friday, March 1, 2024. 

Extended Wednesday Evening Hours and Special Programming.

2024 marks the 75th Anniversary of the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. To celebrate this anniversary, on the first Wednesday of every month throughout 2024, the Rare Book Department will offer extended evening hours until 8:00 p.m., which will include a free, behind-the-scenes program for interested visitors, from 6:30 p.m.to 7:30 p.m.

For additional questions contact us at shemtovj@freelibrary.org

Hours of Operation

The Rare Book Department is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. New late night hours begin the first Wednesday of every month, beginning Wednesday, November 1. On Wednesday late nights, the department will close at 8:00 p.m.

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 or inventoried, 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. We also have a podcast series, Story Search from Special Collections, available on Anchor or Spotify, with accompanying booklists. We welcome all researchers, by prior appointment, and encourage you to learn more about what you can expect on our Visit page. We love when people use our collections but we ask you contact us for any published use; the Rare Book Department doesn't charge reproduction or use fees, we just want to provide high-resolution images and proper citations where possible.

You can reach the Rare Book Department at 215-686-5416 or by email, or check out some of our most frequently asked questions.