Special Collections

Rare book collections

The Redwood is home to an outstanding collection of rare books and manuscripts. Of these, a Bible printed in Venice in 1488 by Giorgio Arrivabene is one of the earliest instances of an incunable owned by an American library and has the distinction of being the incunable held the longest by a library in this country. There are exquisite illuminated books, including a French book of hours from 1517 and a 15th-century "Hours of the Virgin" on vellum.   Among the first editions and other precious literary artifacts secured in the vault include the 1791 unexpurgated first edition of James Boswell'... Read More
The Redwood Library's Original Collection is comprised of the original purchase of 751 titles in England in 1749 and the first donations to the Library's Collection "Given by Several Gentlemen" of an additional 126 titles.   To see a list of the Original Collection books, go to the Advanced Search screen in the online catalog and limit your search to "Special Collections : Original Collection."   More than 90 percent of the Original Collection's approximately 1522 volumes survive either in their original copies or in replacement copies, a number having disappeared when the Library was used as... Read More
In 1981, the Redwood Library received the Cynthia Cary Collection from Guy Fairfax Cary, Jr., in memory of his mother. Collected over decades by Mr. and Mrs. Guy Fairfax Cary, Sr., devoted benefactors of Redwood who were passionately interested in 18th century English decorative arts, the Cary Collection contains nearly 200 English and related continental pattern books of furniture, decoration, and ornament from the late 15th century to the mid-19th century.  This significant collection has been exhibited at the Library, Rhode Island School of Design and Christie's New York, and has been a... Read More
John Carter Brown Library Collaboration   In 2011, the Redwood Library began a collaboration with the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.  The idea was to have each institution select rare and unique materials from their collection that shed light on life in early Colonial America.  The documents would then be scanned using the state-of-the-art facilities at Brown University. Through the generosity of the donors who helped fund this project, 41 volumes of the Redwood’s most valuable books and manuscripts are now available to researchers around the world through the Internet Archive... Read More

Decorative Arts

The Redwood Library and Athenaeum's collection includes more than 150 paintings, primarily portraits, dating from ca. 1659 through the 21st century.  The slideshow below presents a selection from our collection, including portraits by John Smibert, Robert Feke, Gilbert Stuart and the Redwood's loyal friend and great benefactor, Charles Bird King.
Furniture Most of the furniture in the Library's collections reflects the 18th-century era of its founding. From the first purchase of a distinctive set of Windsor chairs to the gift of a chair owned by Governor Benedict Arnold, the Decorative Arts Collection of Redwood has grown through generous donations. Among these are a fine pair of celestial and terrestrial globes given by George Tiffany and a chandelier brought from England by Mrs. Guy F. Cary.   Of major significance is an exquisite card table (c. 1760) attributed to legendary Newport furniture craftsman John Townsend. Two Townsend-... Read More
  A wide collection of 18th- to 19th-century sculptures can also be found throughout the rooms of Redwood. The subjects range from classical personages to figures in American history and art. Among Redwood's favorite pieces are the treasured "American School Boy" by Joseph Mozier, the Bishop triptych donated by the Reverend Dr. Andrew Chalmers Wilson, and "Transition"   by William Greene Turner. Sculptures currently on display include a marble bust of Paris by Canova, a William Wetmore Story statuette of William Shakespeare, "Pheidippides, Soldier of Marathon," by Jean-Pierre Cortot and a... Read More

Manuscript collections

Manuscript collections at the Redwood Library and Athenaeum relate primarily to Newport and Rhode Island history from the colonial era through the twentieth century. A list of processed collections with finding aids is available in the Research Aids section of this web site.       Questions regarding access to these collections should be directed to the Reference Staff at the Redwood Library