Special Collections demonstrates the full range of the history of the book and book production, from ancient times until today. The holdings represent a wide range of languages; come from various geographic areas; and primarily cover history, religion, geography, art, and literature. Researchers can see examples of paper, vellum, parchment, handwriting, inks, typography, bindings, printing methods, illustration processes, and more.
The collection includes over 20 original European medieval manuscripts and leaves, and contains high-quality facsimiles of ancient Asian, Mesopotamian, and Mesoamerican texts. Holdings from the hand press period (which began with Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and lasted until the development of mechanized printing in the mid-19th century) are especially strong in 17th - 19th centuries, but there are also some full incunables (books printed before 1500) and many early printed leaves. Examples abound from the industrial era as well as from the fine press movement, a reaction against mechanization. Holdings include books by British presses like Doves Press, Nonesuch Press, or Kelmscott Press as well as California presses like the Ward Ritchie Press, Saunders Studio Press, Plantin Press, and Arion Press. UCR also has approximately 2,000 miniature books ranging from 17th century religious texts to 20th century fine press books and mass-produced children’s literature.
The artist’s book collection includes works by important 20th century figures including visual artists like Dieter Roth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Heinecken, Mel Bochner; performance artists like Alan Kaprow, La Monte Young, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Michael Snow; and photographers ranging from Ansel Adams and Edward Weston to Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and William Wegman. The collection has over 20 books by Southern California artist Ed Ruscha and several from his Los Angeles-based contemporaries, including Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari.
Special Collections has non-book formats, as well. Music holdings, including sheet music and scores, primarily covers classical music, the American songbook, and the music of California. Thousands of pamphlets in multiple languages document political and social history around the globe, especially concerning labor rights, women’s rights, and leftist movements. The collections also include some prints, ephemera, broadsides, drawings, and fine art objects.