Special Collections & Research


The department of Special Collections oversees Pequot Library’s holdings that are considered rare, valuable, or in need of special care.  Our collection comprises a variety of materials, including manuscripts, archives, rare books, artifacts, artwork, maps, and photographs.  In total, our Special Collections houses more than 30,000 items, many of which have been here since the library opened in 1894.  While a portion of these items were drawn from the library’s original circulating collection, including many of the books in our historic children’s collection, Pequot Library has always maintained a collection of rare books and archival materials.  The library founders sought to build a dedicated research collection of early Americana and imprints from and related to the thirteen original colonies, similar to notable contemporary private collections like the John Carter Brown library and the Lenox library, as well as a genealogical collection. However, unlike comparable private collections, Pequot Library’s research materials were assembled with the intention that they be accessible to the public. Since its founding, the library has supplemented this original rare books collection with early printed books, medieval manuscripts and manuscript fragments, fine press editions, Shakespeareana, and materials relating to American publishing in the twentieth century, and other interesting donations.  Our archival materials include institutional documents and ephemera relating to the founding and maintenance of the library in its early years, as well as papers relating to local history from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.

The Special Collections are open to the public by appointment, but they are non-circulating, and can only be viewed in the Dillon Reading Room under staff supervision.

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Special Collections Overview

Special Collections Overview

Pequot Library has housed a rare books and manuscripts collection since it opened in 1894.  The initial rare books collection was developed with a focus on early Americana and local history.  Today, thanks to a number of significant private gifts/donations, the library’s Special Collections include a diverse set of materials that range in date from a set of cuneiform tablets acquired by the Monroes on their travels to twentieth century first editions of American literature.  The rare books and manuscripts collection housed at the library includes incunabula (books printed before 1501), medieval manuscripts and manuscript fragments, notable volumes of nineteenth century color lithographs by John James Audubon, John Gould, and others, and a collection of World War I and World War II ephemera.

The Americana collection assembled by Rev. William Holman, Virginia Marquand Monroe, and Elbert Monroe, with a later contribution by Mary Catherine Hull Wakeman, focused on early American imprints, with an emphasis on New England.  Highlights include a collection of early American primers, pamphlets from the Revolutionary War, editions of printed edicts, and manuscript compendia of local laws.  A portion of this collection was placed on long-term deposit at Yale’s university library in 1952, and these materials are currently housed onsite at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  The 855 printed books and 1063 manuscripts are described in a catalog produced in 1960, titled “Americana of the Pequot Library”, and can also be found online through the Beinecke Library’s catalogs and finding aids.  However, many significant items from the Americana collection remain onsite at Pequot Library, such as our 1776 Norwich edition of Common Sense, sermons and other theological works from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, a selection of early primers, and ephemeral materials like early printed colonial and United States currency and edicts.  The Monroes were also enthusiastic collectors of material on Native Americans from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

The Children’s Historical Collection was born from the growing circulating collection of children’s books acquired over the decades at Pequot Library, and includes editions from the late nineteenth to twentieth centuries.  This collection includes early editions of periodicals like Chatterbox, first editions of Louisa May Alcott’s works, and Kate Greenaway editions.  A notable feature of this collection is the provenance evidence from young readers that it contains.  Researchers working on this collection may also find the eighteenth and early nineteenth century primers and chapbooks in the Americana collection useful. 

In addition to the institutional records of the Library, the archival holdings within Special Collections include papers and manuscripts from other local institutions, as well as collections of papers and records compiled by friends of Rev. Holman and the Monroes.  These papers include legal documents, business records, letters, and other manuscripts from the Southport and Fairfield area from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

Notable other Collections include:

  • The George Platt Brett, Jr. collection, a collection of books and papers Brett amassed while serving as chairman of the American division of Macmillan Publishing.  This includes Margaret Mitchell’s manuscript of the final four chapters of Gone with the Wind. as well as an impressive collection of international editions. 
  • The Claire Leighton collection, which includes notes, sketches, personal correspondence, and trial prints, as well as editions of books illustrated and signed by Leighton.
  • The Dean Stockett Edmunds collection, a major donation of Shakesepeareana that includes a partial First Folio, and complete Second, Third, and Fourth Folios.
  • A collection of Fine Press imprints including 40 Kelmscott Press editions, and books from the library of Eric Gill.

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How to Search the Collections

Pequot Library’s holdings can be searched through two different tools.  All cataloged books, including pamphlets, broadsheets, and single manuscript volumes can be found via the same catalog that we use for circulating books.  This network is shared with the Fairfield Public Library and the Fairfield Museum and History Center and the best way to search our Special Collections is to select “Pequot Special Collections” from the first drop-down menu in the search bar, or select “Pequot Special Collections” from the “Limits” in “Advanced Search”.

Our archival materials are described in a separate database hosted through Archivespace.  Users can choose to browse the hierarchical organization of each individual archival collection, or to search the entire repository for specific people, topics, or other keywords.

The library also hosts an important collection of early photographs of Southport and the surrounding area, the Southport Picture File.  The original picture file is stored on-site at the library, but the entire collection has been digitized, and can be searched via our online database.

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Search the Special Collections Catalog

“I love Pequot Library because of its excellent history archives and genealogical materials.”


Scheduling an Appointment

The Dillon Reading Room is available by appointment from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday, unless otherwise noted.  All reading room appointments must be supervised by a member of staff.

To make an appointment, you must first complete our Reader Registration Form.  Upon completing the registration form, please send an email to specialcollections@pequotlibrary.org, indicating the materials requested and the desired date(s) and time(s) to view them.  Appointments should be scheduled at least one week in advance.  Some items in the collection are stored offsite, and require advance notice to ensure retrieval of all materials.  This delivery window is generally one week, but may vary.

Readers will be asked to provide a photo ID at each visit to the reading room.

Groups of three or more people will require at least two week’s notice.  For these larger groups, it may be advantageous to consider our School Program offerings as an alternative to a Reading Room appointment.

Readers are permitted to take digital images of items in our collection with their personal devices.  However, prior permission must be obtained from library staff before shooting, and flash is not permitted.  There are no restrictions on images intended for personal research use.

Pequot Library does not charge publication fees for scholars incorporating images and excerpts from our holdings into their published work.  Researchers and readers who wish to use our materials in their publications must notify the library in advance, in order to ensure proper credit is given.

Reference Inquiries
For general questions about our holdings, including information on unprocessed collections, please send an email to specialcollections@pequotlibrary.org.  

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Complete the Registration Form


Pequot Library’s Special Collections department curates three exhibitions a year, drawing on material from our collections.  These typically are on view between November and February, February to early May, and June to August.  Past exhibitions have focused on local history, significant works of art and literature, and the material features of books.

Click here to learn more about our current exhibition.
Click here for information about past exhibitions.

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Explore our Exhibitions

Bring Your Students

Pequot Library hosts sessions using Special Collections materials for a wide variety of school groups from middle school to postgraduate-level classes.  We offer a variety of programs based on previous exhibitions, as well as custom programs upon request.Visit our Education Programs page for more details.

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Bring Your Students

Dillon Fellowship

Pequot Library in Southport, CT is pleased to announce the 2022 Dillon Fellowship, which will provide support to researchers or librarians working on the library’s collections for projects lasting one month. 

Learn More

Special Collections

English/Language Arts

  • Shakespeare Collection including extracts from First Folio (1623) and complete Second (1632), Third (1666), and Fourth (1685) Folios
  • Grammars and Primers by Noah Webster
  • International Editions of Gone with the Wind

History/Social Studies

  • Collections on Civil War, World War I, and World War II
  • Collections on Native Americans
  • Antiquities of Mexico. Published by Edward King, Lord Kingsborough, in the early 19th century
  • Nine volumes of colored facsimiles showing Mesoamerican literature and history
  • Sermons and essays by 18th-century clergy

Rare Manuscripts

  • The Sancti Gregorii magni epistolae (the Letter of Pope Gregory I, c. 540-604), the oldest book found in a public library in Fairfield County
  • 15th century illuminated antiphonal