Skip to main content

Rare Books

2022 Rare Hero Image
Library Of Michigan

Rare Books


Welcome to the Martha W. Griffiths Michigan Rare Book Room!

Named for Lieutenant Governor, Martha Wright Griffiths (1912-2003). Built entirely with private funds, including a significant contribution by Martha and Hicks Griffiths, the Martha W. Griffiths Michigan Rare Book Room was dedicated October 28, 2003 to honor Ms. Griffiths' lifelong commitment to libraries and in recognition of her lengthy career as an attorney, judge, Congressional Representative, sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, inductee to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame and to the National Women's Hall of Fame.

The Martha W. Griffiths Michigan Rare Book Room is located on the Library's fourth floor. Access to the collection and Reading Room is by appointment only. Make an appointment by contacting Library staff at or 517-335-1477.

Rare Materials Collection at the Library of Michigan

This collection of more than 30,000 items includes books, maps, posters, newspapers, magazines, and other print resources covering the spectrum of subjects as the other collections in the Library of Michigan. A distinction is these materials are generally 19th century and earlier publications. With few exceptions, all materials are available to researchers upon request. Those few exceptions include exceedingly fragile items and those reproduced in another format such as a photocopy or on microfilm.

The Exhibit Room

Check out the always-open Exhibit room for attractive and engaging themed exhibits of materials selected from throughout our collections, and occasionally from other collections as well. This room provides a chance to get a flavor of our extensive rare materials collection.

Rare Display Room collage of display cases

The Reading Room

The Rare Book Collection at the Library of Michigan has grown beyond 30,000 volumes, each item varying in size from slender pamphlets, less than 3 inches tall, to large folios measuring 30 or more inches in height and 24 in width. Formats include maps, printed books, portfolios of prints, scrapbooks, letters, and deeds. Materials include paper, leather, bark, and parchment.

The Library of Michigan Foundation provided all of the funding for the construction of the Martha W. Griffiths Michigan Rare Book Room. The Campaign for the Library of Michigan Foundation also provides a fund for the conservation and preservation of rare materials and the acquisition of additional materials.

The collection has six main areas of focus, consisting of collections in natural history, law, angling, travel and exploration, Native Americans, and Michigana. Numerous other types of materials, from miniature books to fore-edge paintings, further distinguish this exciting collection.

Rare Book Room Reading Room

Natural History

The natural history collection features works by Audubon, Bewick, Michaux, Nuttall, and Gilbert White, the sixteen volumes of Sir Joseph Paxton's Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants (1834-49), with beautiful hand colored plates depicting the species described, and many other illustrated volumes primarily of European and American interest. In the State of Michigan, where wildlife, natural resources and outdoor activities are vitally important to the citizens, these resources play a valuable role in understanding the State's history and economy.


The oldest title in the Library belongs to the law collection, Nicholas Statham's Abridgment of the Law, printed around 1490. Trial literature, from murder to high treason, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, abounds. Included in this collection is John Milton's classic work on the freedom of the press, the Areopagitica, as beautifully printed by the Doves Press in 1907 (other samples of fine printing include works from the Kelmscott and Ashendene presses). The law collection has great potential for historical research in the Anglo-American legal tradition.


The Bower-Averbach Collections form the nucleus of the compilation of angling materials. Seymour Bower (1855 - 1924), for 25 years the superintendent of fisheries in Michigan, was one of the nation's foremost authorities on fisheries. This collection includes works of scientific as well as antiquarian interest, and many particularly concern Michigan and the Great Lakes area. J.E. Averbach assembled an equally impressive array of titles in the field; a curiosity of his collection is W.H. Aldam's Quaint treatise on "Flees and the Art a Artifichall Flee Making" by an Old Man, 1876, which contains actual samples of hand-tied flies.


Nineteenth century pioneer accounts of the young United States and its territories distinguish Library of Michigan holdings in travel and exploration. The westward expansion of the nation is amply documented in accounts like those of Lewis and Clark, Fremont, and Francis Parkman. Valuable government documents contain maps, charts and illustrations of the new lands encountered. A tangential group of materials is the Jenison Collection, which contains early American almanacs and nineteenth century political ephemera, as well as many articles of Michigania.

Native Americans

The compilation of books on Native Americans spans all of the Americas geographically. Perhaps the most valuable title is the massive nine volume Antiquities of Mexico (1848) by Edward Kingsborough, with its hand colored depictions of Mexican manuscripts. The Library owns two editions of Thomas L. McKenney's Indian Tribes of North America, one printed in 1838 and another around 1870, after the original paintings by Charles Bird King deposited in the Smithsonian were destroyed by fire, in 1865. Early government publications, pioneer accounts of captivity and cooperation, and scarce and valuable titles by George Catlin and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft round out an important research collection.


The Michigan Collection features early State documents, trade and tourist ephemera, sheet music, maps, Civil War rosters, atlases, and scrapbooks, not to mention Michigan imprints from Fr. Gabriel Richard's first Detroit press to Ann Arbor's avant-garde Alternative Press. The output of Benton Harbor's House of David community and of the Strangite Mormons of Beaver Island are amply represented and give insight into the by-ways of Michigan's religious history. The largest and most important of the sub-collections, this special assemblage of Michigania numbers thousands of items and is the highest priority for future development.

Rare Book Resources

  • Your Old Books - A source for the most frequently asked questions about rare and antiquarian books such as what makes a book rare, are all old books valuable, etc.

Updated: 8/13/2022