While primarily a collection of printed books and engraved maps, the John Carter Brown Library also possesses an assortment of colonial-era manuscripts, many of which hold considerable importance as unique historical records and artifacts.
Consisting of approximately 455 bound codices and more than 460 unbound manuscripts, the manuscript collection is particularly strong for material in English and Spanish, with smaller holdings in French, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Latin, and German. Also significant is the collection of codices in indigenous American languages, including many grammars, dictionaries, and catechisms. These indigenous codices may be seen on our Internet Archive collection.
In addition to single codices and unbound manuscripts, the Library holds a few larger archival collections related to early American history and to the foundation of the Library itself. These include three large collections of business records generated by prominent Rhode Island merchant families—the Browns, the Arnolds, and the Tillinghasts. The Library also holds the papers of bookseller, author, and Rhode Island Secretary of State John Russell Bartlett (1805–1886), including records and artwork generated during his tenure as Boundary Commissioner for the establishment of the border between the United States and Mexico in the 1850s. Bartlett served as a mentor to John Carter Brown in the development of the Library, and compiled its first catalog, the Bibliotheca Americana. The Library’s own archives also serve as a rich resource for the history of the book trade.
Records for the manuscript collection can be accessed through the manuscript section of the Library’s card catalog. Finding aids and other guides for the larger archival collections are also available. Online Finding aids may be found on the Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online (RIAMCO) site. For additional information, please contact Kim Nusco, Reference and Manuscript Librarian.