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Rare Book Room

Located on the Ninth Floor of Central Library

Special Collections include the Hervey Family Rare Book Room, the San Diego Heritage Room, the Marilyn and Gene Marx Special Collection Room, the Genealogy Collection and the California Collection.

The Hervey Family Rare Book Room houses the Wangenheim Collection of rare books and materials. The room has the tranquil feel of a 19th-century, wood-paneled private library with a modern flair.

  • Photo of the exterior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

    Exterior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

  • Photo of the interior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

    Interior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

  • Photo of the interior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

    Interior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

  • Photo of the interior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

    Interior view of the Hervey Family Rare Book Room located on the 9th floor of the Central Library.

The Wangenheim Collection of rare materials traces the history of books over 4,000 years. Some of the highlights include:

  • the “Nuremberg Chronicle,” an illustrated world history book printed in 1497, considered to be one of the earliest printed books;
  • a rare and exquisitely illustrated 20th-century manuscript of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam;
  • 19th-century Japanese prints;
  • a set of miniature books so small that magnifying glasses are needed to read them;
  • 178 fore-edge books, which reveal watercolor scenes when the edges of the volumes are fanned out;
  • books produced by Renaissance printers Aldus Manutius and Nicolas Jenson before 1501;
  • a Bible handwritten in Latin in 1260, nearly 200 years before Gutenberg invented the printing press;
  • six newly conserved and rarely see works from the 1800s - three by William Hogarth and three by Ando Hiroshige;
  • Nearly 100 engraving prints of London life;
  • Samuel Johnson’s two-volume English dictionary published in 1755; and
  • “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” by Francesco Colonna.

There is a 14-foot-long study table created by San Diego woodworker Bill Murphy. It consists of two parallel 400-pound slabs of eucalyptus, which were taken from the same tree.

There are San Diego city directories in the San Diego Heritage Room. These directories list the addresses and occupations for most San Diegans by year. If a house was built before the reverse directories were printed, you can still discover who lived there using census and voter registration rolls.

This is also where you find information on San Diego’s history, including:

  • the Great Register (of Voters) for San Diego in 1888-1892;
  • a tourist souvenir guide published in 1897 with a description of many of the local towns, with photographs of some of the homes and attractions; and
  • the Marston Company newspaper advertisements collection for 1910, 1920 and 1930. 

In the Genealogy Collection library patrons have free use of the library’s subscription to Ancestry.com (subscription is only accessible at SDPL locations). Ancestry.com has a wide selection of census and voter lists, as well as ship manifests, marriage licenses, death certificates, city directories, wedding notices, newspaper articles, school yearbooks and church records.

The California Collection has extensive information on California history.

Head to the Marilyn and Gene Marx Special Collection Room for a quiet place to read through the things you’ve discovered in the Special Collections.


Ken Kramer's San Diego

In this episode of About San Diego, reporter Ken Kramer gets a closer look at the world’s smallest book with Special Collections Librarian Rick Crawford. View the episode on KPBS.

Photo of reporter Ken Kramer and Special Collections librarian Rick Crawford examining one of the world's smallest book.

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