Revealing the Library's Rare Book Vault

BUFFALO, NY - Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Buffalo sits a building very much removed from the noise and chaos of a city. The Buffalo and Erie County Public library. A place for quiet reading and discovery.

Row after row of heaving shelves filled with centuries of knowledge and prose, but this collection of 40,000 works also includes some very rare and priceless books, like the handwritten manuscript for Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It's on display in the Mark Twain Room.

Other rare collections, like the complete four volume set of The Audubon Birds of America are also seen in public. The enormous pages are displayed one at a time in a protected glass case inside the Grosvenor Room, where historical records and genealogy information are also available.

Down the hall - another room dedicated to sharing the pinnacles of this collection - the rare book room. Here, currently on display, 14 first edition books by L. Frank Baum - the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

When not on exhibit, the rare books are kept under tight security - inside the library's vault - now revealed.

"We're now entering what we call the inner sanctum," says Amy Pickard, the library's Rare Book Curator.

Carefully kept inside are roughly 10,000 rare and priceless titles spanning centuries - even millennia.

"We do have some clay tablets and clay cones and those date back to about 2350 B.C.," says Pickard.

Other works here include Shakespeare's first, second, third and fourth folios. "This is from 1623, the first folio," says Pickard. "Shakespeare died in 1616 so this was compiled and done after his death."

There's also the Milestones of Science collection of nearly 200 very rare and very valuable works from the likes of Galileo and Newton. Even the work of Copernicus - for the first time - placing the sun at the center of our solar system.

And a collection of the Federalist papers - written in New York State to try and pass a constitution. This copy once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, who's handwriting you can even see on the bottom of this page, arguing against the text written by another founding father - Alexander Hamilton.

"It's unique and rare for a public library outside of New York or Boston to have the collection we have," says Pickard. And it's a reflection of Buffalo at the turn of the century - one of the wealthiest cities and one beaming with civic pride. In many cases, local collectors donated these works of art to the libraries for the benefit of the whole community.


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