History


A Unique Library

While the Library’s programs and services have made it a literary and cultural beacon, Pequot’s Special Collections of rare books, manuscripts, and archives make it truly unique. They were assembled initially by Virginia Marquand Monroe (1837-1926) and her associates, the Rev. William Holman (1852 – 1936) and Mary Catherine Hull Wakeman (1813 – 1896). They focused the first collection efforts on Early Americana. In addition to funding the remarkable steel stacks holding Pequot’s circulating collection, which feature three Tiffany windows, Mrs. Wakeman made significant purchases that continue to distinguish Pequot’s Special Collections today, including Epistola de insulis nuper inventis (Christopher Columbus’ Letter of 1493) and the signatures of all signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Library was designed by noted American architect Robert H. Robertson (1849-1919) and opened in 1894. The first Library event was a performance with the Yale Glee Club.

Virginia Marquand Monroe
Marquand Monroe Family Portrait
Mary Catherine Hull Wakeman

A Cultural Legacy

Pequot Library and its Special Collections represent the inspired collecting history of its forward-thinking, late-19th-century founders and benefactors. About 1,900 of our finest materials, including many items from the founders’ original collection, remain on long-term deposit at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, where they have been since the early 1960s. Researchers may view the catalog of our holdings on deposit at Yale here.

Pequot Library’s entire Special Collections, comprised of approximately 30,000 rare books, manuscripts, and archives, have become a cultural legacy of regional and international significance.

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Remarkable Holdings

In addition to the extraordinary contributions from the Library’s founders, the Special Collections features a wide collection of holdings, including:

  • 15th-century illuminated antiphonary – a volume containing the choral parts of the Divine Office
  • The four Shakespeare Folios – two intact plays from the First (1623), and complete Second (1632), Third (1666), and Fourth (1685)
  • Collection on Native Americans highlighted by the three-volume History of the Indian tribes of North America… embellished with one hundred and twenty portraits from the Indian gallery in the Department of War by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall
  • John Gould’s A monograph of the Trochilidæ, or family of humming-birds (1861), including an introduction to all five volumes plus a supplement, totaling 416 color lithographic plates, and an index to the specific names of hummingbirds
  • Original wood cuts, published works, and personal correspondence of Clare Leighton (1898 – 1989)
  • A growing number of first printings, such as Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (1960)
  • John James Audubon’s Birds of America, the 1860 Bien edition – chromolithography by Julius Bien – published by his son John Woodhouse Audubon
  • International editions of Gone with the Wind, complementing Margaret Mitchell’s manuscript of the final four chapters of her only novel

These remarkable holdings, both regional in scope and internationally significant, offer patrons and scholars treasures for reading and research.

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The Dillon Reading Room

Pequot Library received a restricted grant from The Dillon Fund to reimagine existing spaces within the Library for rare books to be on view to the public every day of the year. The Dillon Reading Room, a space for students and scholars to utilize Pequot’s collections, is located in a portion of the Mezzanine. The Fund also supported the construction of a secure, humidity- and temperature-controlled Special Collections Storage Room on the lower level of the Library, which now houses an on-site selection of rare books, manuscripts, and archives. The May Room, adjacent to the Main Reading Room, received updates as well, including redesigned display cases for Special Collections materials and ample seating for quiet reading.

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