Though Mr. Berenson was not a collector of rare books as such, he acquired many early printed books as well as later publications of particular interest or rarity, to which the Library over the years has added substantially. The Library’s Special Collections currently contain nearly 3,500 titles, of which about twenty percent can be considered quite rare. They comprise a small number of late medieval manuscripts and incunables, some 600 Cinque- and Seicentine, over 750 eighteenth-century works, and hundreds of modern editions through the twenty-first century. Noteworthy clusters of topical areas or typologies include the following:
- a strong representation of sixteenth-century editions by authors associated with the Florentine Academy, such as Anton Francesco Doni, Paolo Giovio, Benedetto Varchi, Ludovico Dolce, Giorgio Vasari, etc. – a distinctive interest of Mr. Berenson’s;
- a significant collection of manuscripts and early printed editions of music;
- works relating to early Italian opera and theatre;
- descriptive travel accounts especially of areas around the Mediterranean and the Near East;
- a distinguished collection of works on east and south Asian as well as Islamic art and architecture;
- novels and other writings by personal friends of the Berensons, often with dedications (Henry Adams, Vernon Lee, Edith Wharton, George Santayana, Henry James, etc.)
- a good selection of books published by late nineteenth/early twentieth century fine and private presses (The Doves Press, Hachette, The Ashendene Press, and others)
numerous facsimiles of late medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, books of hours, Bibles, sketchbooks, musical scores, etc.
The Berenson Library also holds a substantial collection of manuscripts and early printed material on microforms. These include some 2,500 manuscripts of early music and a similar number of books of printed music; the microfilm collection of Charles Trinkaus, comprising some 180 manuscripts of Italian humanists; the series “Italian Books before 1601, containing nearly 3,000 titles; and the “Cicognara Library,” over 4,600 works mainly on art and architecture dating from before the 1830s.