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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library

Thomas W. Baldwin Collection, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Collection Profile

The Thomas W. Baldwin Collection is a centerpiece of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's extensive holdings of imprints from the age of Shakespeare. Baldwin, a distinguished Professor of English at the University of Illinois from 1925 to 1958, assembled the collection to support his research relating to the education of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Consequently, the collection is strong in Renaissance rhetoric, pedagogy, religion, and history, and in editions of classical texts taught in English schools.

In the early 20th century, the University of Illinois began to build its collections in earnest in order to support faculty in conducting primary research far removed from major urban centers. Professor Harris F. Fletcher, a member of the English faculty from 1926 to 1962, amassed a collection of books by and about John Milton which, in 1937, was housed in the Seventeenth Century Room on the fourth floor of the University Library. Likewise, Professor Baldwin was gathering books in his study on behalf of the library, "assembled by long search in second-hand catalogues and in English book-stalls," as the annual report for 1941 records. By 1943, Baldwin's cache of library books had joined Fletcher's to form the core of what is now the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Through the years, Professor Baldwin also built a personal collection, using it as a supplement to the books that the university had purchased on his recommendation. From these resources, Baldwin produced dozens of studies and editions of Shakespeare's works. In his William Shakespere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke (1944), Baldwin pays tribute to the library for allowing him to acquire thousands of volumes pertinent to his research. Baldwin's personal library, consisting of some 5,800 volumes, was acquired by the library in 1966.

Although books from the Baldwin Collection have been featured in exhibitions, exposing the public to their richness, and have been used by scholars who visit the University of Illinois Library, online access to the collection remains limited; this situation will be remedied with the help of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation cataloging grant.

In sum, the Baldwin Collection, along with the Milton and Miltoniana books gathered by Harris F. Fletcher, forms the core around which the strengths of the University of Illinois's collections have been built. In 1950, University of Illinois alumnus Ernest Ingold donated a set of the four Shakespeare folios, followed over the years by a substantial number of other Shakespeare items, such as a set of eight Pavier quartos (1619). Subsequently, the University of Illinois has become one of the most important repositories of pre-1801 English imprints in the world. In addition, the library holds more than 1,100 incunabula, making it one the premier collections in North America, and significant collections of 16th- and 17th-century Continental books. Manuscript collections range from Elizabethan legal documents to a commonplace book in the hand of Gabriel Harvey and the papers of Sir Robert Clayton, banker and Lord Mayor of London in 1679. The scholarly enterprise embodied by the Thomas W. Baldwin Collection continues to flourish at the University of Illinois.

Collection Profile and Overview: Valerie Hotchkiss, Alvan Bregman, Christopher D. Cook
Illustrations: Jason Lindsey, Noah Pollaczek

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