Building on the foundation provided by the DeGolyer family, the Library today holds approximately 110,000 rare and historically significant printed books, with remarkable collections devoted to early voyages & travels, Western Americana, the history of science and technology, business history, the book arts, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, English and American literature.
Our oldest book is the Latin edition of the Christopher Columbus Letter, published in Rome in 1493. Important in its own right, it also stands at the head of our collecting efforts in many ways, emblematic of travel, discovery, the European encounter with the Americas, the promise of riches, the reality of dashed hopes.
Mr. DeGolyer’s early collecting was guided by Henry Wagner’s influential bibliography, The Spanish Southwest, 1542-1794. We hold a good many of the landmark editions enumerated therein, including works by Hernando Cortés, Francisco López de Gómara, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá.
As Americans began to encroach upon the West after the Louisiana Purchase, a vast literature followed in their wake. The standard guide to these books and pamphlets is The Plains & the Rockies: A Critical Bibliography of Exploration, Adventure and Travel in the American West, 1800-1865. Of the over 400 works listed, DeGolyer Library holds close to ninety percent of them, often in multiple editions. While the works of Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, and Washington Irving are well known, we also have many of the more obscure works, including Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard (Clearfield, Pa., 1839).
What makes the DeGolyer useful for the researcher, however, is our commitment to collecting not only the great rarities but also the more commonplace imprints of the western country: almanacs, pamphlets, cookbooks, laws, promotional literature, broadsides, proceedings of social, fraternal, and educational institutions, religious publications, and homespun poetry and fiction. These humble productions of the press often contain much to recommend them, and, in the aggregate, they form a body of literature just as rare and historically valuable as the Columbus Letter.