Introduction to our Special Collections

Special Collections at Central Library include a wide variety of rare and unique items: photographs, maps, books, paintings, prints, artists' books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, travel posters, restaurant menus, fashion plates, bookplates, fruit crate labels, manuscripts and much more. The Rare Books Room at Central holds over 22,000 monographs, predominantly in English and Spanish, dating from the fifteenth century. The majority of materials housed in the Rare stacks were published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Lummis brand

The Library's most focused research collection is on Californiana. Much of the material on the Spanish and Mexican periods of early California history were acquired primarily through the efforts of Charles F. Lummis (City Librarian, 1905-1910). John D. Bruckman (Collection Development Manager, 1968-1979) added many important titles from the American period. Included is a very rare Informe of 1702 by Piccolo, and a highlight from the Mexican period is Estrada's 1835 decree declaring Los Angeles a city and the capital of the territory. The American period is represented by early Los Angeles imprints and ends with a Lummis manuscript of 1928. Charles F. Lummis used a branding iron to mark acquisitions, and many examples of branded books can be found in our collection.

The Library also holds institutional archives which contain the original sketches and blueprints for the Central Library building by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (dated 1924) in addition to studies by Dean Cornwell for what would eventually become the murals adorning the walls in the Rotunda of Central Library. The Paul Fritzsche collection of Culinary Literature is one of the largest in the country. Also, notable core collections include Mexicana, the George B. Smith Taurina collection of Bullfighting literature, Ornithology, Pacific voyages and travels, costume, and American Indians.
Photos and Maps 

The Los Angeles Central Library's History Department began collecting photographs sometime before World War II and had a collection of about 13,000 images by the late 1950s. In 1981, when Los Angeles celebrated its 200th birthday, Security Pacific National Bank gave its noted collection of 250,000 historical photographs to the people of Los Angeles to be archived at the Central Library. Since then, the Central Library has been fortunate to receive other major collections and special archives, making the library a resource worldwide for images. Over 116,000 of our images are now searchable through the Digital Public Library of America.

ansel adams

The Library's Photo Collection is comprised of various collections including the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, the Shades of LA Collection of Family Photographs, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Valley Times newspaper archives, and additional smaller collections taken by local photographers. Over 116,000 images are accessible through the LAPL website, with hundreds added each month. Photographs housed in Rare include a series of 135 contact prints and 217 negatives by Ansel Adams, taken for the March 1941 issue of Fortune Magazine. The images, personally donated to the Library by Adams in 1962, are all accessible in the online collection. Other photographs include a series of nine 8x10 matted black and white prints of objects and landscapes in Central California taken by Edward Weston. The photos were part of the Public Works of Art Project and were given to the LAPL on June 21, 1934. An additional five 8x10 prints come from the Library's extensive WPA collection. Also housed in Rare are a series of 36 oversized color prints documenting the XXIII Olympiad held in Los Angeles in the Summer of 1984 and taken by Paul Slaughter, Chief Photographer for the 1984 Olympic Organizing Committee. 

map Los Angeles 1884

There are over 200,000 Maps in Central Library's collection, one of the largest in American public libraries.

The collection also includes some 2,000 atlases, over 1,000 gazetteers, some 20 serial titles and over one thousand books supporting the study of maps and mapping. The emphasis of this collection is on Los Angeles, Southern California, and California but in many cases, the scope extends to national and international coverage. The great majority of the chronological scope is post-1900 but there is a representation of 19th-century maps in California. 

Beyond Photos and Maps

Angel's Flight

Special collections include much more than monographs and manuscripts. We have a collection of over 800 artists' books, nearly 15,000 restaurant menus, 889 travel posters, hundreds of fruit crate labels, an autograph collection started by Charles Lummis, a bookplate collection started by the late Library Assistant and Rare collection specialist Tom Owen, Casey Fashion Plates, California prints, Japanese prints, the Gladys English Collection of American Children's Book Illustration, the Hollywood Collection of Movie Posters, and the Behymer Opera Collection.