Hidden Treasures in Yale’s Vaults: Finding Rare Books

Hidden Treasures in Yale’s Vaults: Finding Rare Books

Traditionally, you go to a library to find books. On the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, however, there is a whole lot more to the library than approximately 600,000 volumes and several million original manuscripts. Your trip to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library will include significant artifacts and many other treasures.

Michael Cummings, Public Relations Manager at the Beinecke, admits that he has his favorites among these treasures.

“The library boasts a collection of correspondence and writing by and about Abraham Lincoln,” Cummings explains. “It includes a gold pen that President Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s a small artifact that carries enormous historical significance. Think about it: that pen played an important role in defining our history.

Yale’s Jewelry Box

The Beinecke opened in 1963 and celebrated its fiftieth birthday last year. Located at the center of Yale’s campus, this impressively rich collection needed impressive architecture to match—and the Beinecke does not disappoint. The bulk of the documents belonging to the library are enclosed in a six-story glass vault. The shape of the vault, as well as the treasures within it, may be the reason the Beinecke is often referred to as a jewelry box.

In addition to Lincoln’s gold pen, you can find many other items, such as Walt Whitman’s journals; Audobon’s Birds of America; samples of Thomas Jefferson’s unique, stylistic handwriting; 48 original copies of the Gutenberg Bible; and famous, ancient papyri.

Protecting Priceless Treasures

Extensive procedures are in place to preserve these precious items. For example, very limited access is granted to guests to actually handle the texts themselves in the underground reading room. Additionally, each text is treated to a three-day cooling process that enables the books to outlive bookworms. In the event of a fire, flame-suppressant gases will automatically protect the manuscripts within the glass structure. Cummings explains that “the building’s distinctive marble panels filter the sunlight to limit the amount of light that the materials are exposed to.” Such attention to caring for and preserving the vault’s contents shows just how treasured these items truly are.

“One of the joys of working here is that you discover something new and fascinating every day,” Cummings says. The vast collections of the Beinecke can transport you from urban Connecticut to many places and times in history, helping you discover new and fascinating things with every visit.


—Tierre Sanford 


  1. This is so cool! It makes me wonder if other universities have similar hidden treasures.

  2. Interesting! I’m going into museum studies, and I never though about a library being a place for a curator or conservator.

  3. I wish I could similarly protect my books from fire. True, mine aren’t rare and priceless, but I’m definitely jealous of their safety precautions.

  4. Very intriguing. I think a lot of university libraries have similar treasures that are all too often overlooked. The one image included in this article makes me curious as to how the artifacts are displayed.

  5. That’d be an awesome vacation! Books are the way to go.

  6. I really appreciate their efforts to conserve old literature. Libraries are such exciting places. I’d love to have the opportunity to explore Yale, or even Harvard or Cambridge; I bet they’ve got great special collections!


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