The Rare Books Collection is one of the unit under Special Collections consists of four distinct parts which include the Rare Books, Museum, University Archives, and Manuscript Collections. The Rare Books Collections contain approximately 70,000 volumes, which range from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth century authors. The Manuscript Collection, also known as the American Catholic History Collection, collects personal papers and institutional records which document the heritage and history of the American Catholic people.


Collecting Scope

The Catholic University of America Rare Books is one of four units under the auspices of Special Collections, which includes Rare Books, Museum, University Archives, and Manuscript Collections.

Rare Books collects antique and modern rare books of permanent intellectual and historical value for their content and/or nature as physical artifacts, and which may contribute to the teaching and research missions of The Catholic University of America and/or strengthen the existing collections held at the University.

Collection materials are selected and acquired for a variety of reasons, including their value for future research and their educational potential. Generally, we seek to acquire materials to enhance existing subject areas (see "Core Collecting Areas" and "additional areas of interest" below) and support our collecting priorities. We acquire materials in a variety of languages, covering a diversity of topics and a range of geographical regions.

Acquisition Process

Through donation, purchase, or exchange, we collect rare and modern books in support of our collecting priorities and in complement to the educational mission of The Catholic University of America.

Our staff members review each case, either a singular item or a group of materials, individually and by prior arrangement. We do not accept unsolicited donations.

All acquisitions are subject to United States law, Catholic University of America policies, and professional best practices.


Due to a need for proper documentation, we purchase materials through professional book sellers, preferably members of the professional association of antique and rare book dealers (such as ABAA, ILAB, etc.), as well as galleries and auctions.


We always welcome offers of donations from both book dealers and private individuals, when they fit our scope and collecting criteria. If you are interested in donating to the collection, please contact the Rare Books staff and we will be glad to review your request.

All donation offers need to be reviewed and approved before the materials are delivered and will require a signed Deed of Gift, transferring ownership rights to the Catholic University.

Rare Books staff consider several factors in determining acquisitions, whether by purchase, exchange, or donation . This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Institutional collecting priorities and educational mission;
  • Collection strengths, balance, and diversity;
  • Historical, intellectual, cultural, or artistic merit;
  • Research value;
  • Uniqueness and accessibility of other copies;
  • Provenance (the documented history of ownership of an object);
  • Maintenance and conservation cost;
  • Promotional potential (exhibits and more);

If you are interested in donating to the collection, please contact the Special Collections staff:

Core Collecting Areas:

Additional materials of interest, which may be considered for acceptance as donations or in some cases for purchasing:

  • Manuscripts and books produced or printed before 1870.
    • Especially medieval and early modern legal Latin manuscripts (charters, bulls, etc.)
  • American Catholic Comic Books and Juvenile literature (prior to 1970)
  • European Catholic Catechisms (earlier than 1900)
  • General Catholic and Catholic-related periodicals and pamphlets printed prior to 1970.
  • First, special, and limited edition works (with fewer than 300 copies), including Fine and Private Press books.
  • Historically important Catholic or Catholic-related books produced prior to 1900 (including polemical and anti-Catholic publications)
  • Autographed or association copies, which may include items or annotations belonging to an author, a notable figure, or a person associated with the work's contents.
  • Books with significant manuscript notations, ephemera, or unique physical features (exceptional bindings, illustrations, binding, etc.).
  • Materials on the history of the book and print culture.

Please note: Special Collections does not offer appraisal services for acquisitions or donations.

If the materials you'd like to donate are related to American Catholicism but do not fit our scope, please consider contacting our Archives: