Book Arts & Rare Book Collections – Seattle, Washington - Atlas Obscura

Book Arts & Rare Book Collections

Peruse rare tomes like poetry bound in pearls or books with branches and berries growing out of their spines. 


The University of Washington is sitting on a treasure trove of unusual, delicate, and special books. In its Book Arts & Rare Book Collections you can find works of poetry bound with pearl buttons and garter belts, cube books to be unfolded, and any number of tomes on typography, papermaking, calligraphy, book design, and illustration.

In total, the collection clocks in at about 21,000 titles, ranging from the 11th century to the 21st. That’s not counting the uncatalogued paper samples, zines, and other miscellaneous pieces. While the books and artifacts are not traditionally browsable in the university stacks, those interested in perusing the treasures can do by request; appointments are even required to behold the most fragile pieces in the collection.

It may seem that these texts are so esoteric that only scholars would want to explore them, but the large collection also includes some 7,000 titles for young readers, including alphabet books, story books, maps, and fables. The unique collection is well worth a trip down to the university’s Suzallo and Allen Libraries. It’s historical preservations like this that remind us who we are and where we’ve been, and can inform us as to where we might be headed next.

Know Before You Go

To access the collections, you must call ahead and request an appointment with the curator or a staff member. You can find more information on the library website. In an exhibit full of books filled with words, “delicate” might be the key one. Some of these pieces are hundreds of years old. Handle them like they should remain intact for another thousand.

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April 13, 2018

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