Houghton Library opened its doors in 1942. Throughout 2017, we are celebrating the library’s world-class collections, and support of research and teaching over the last 75 years. Join in the celebrations by participating in our year-long program of events that promises visitors a unique glimpse of some of Houghton’s most treasured holdings:

  • Three exhibitions showcasing highlights from Houghton's collection selected by Harvard faculty, and the library’s curators, archivists and librarians
  • Film series screening movies inspired by or connected to Houghton’s literary archives
  • Houghton Library at 75, a new guide to the collections
  • Houghton Library: Who Cares? A 75th Anniversary Symposium exploring why and how curators, conservators, artists and researchers care for special collections
  • Weekly tours, and special events

For updates, check back here, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Happening @ Houghton

Special Events


  • Lines etched into a window pane by Sophia A. Hawthorne at The Old Manse in Concord. Endymion, the painting referred to, has unfortunately been lost, but Sophia and Nathaniel's daughter Una seems to have delighted in the icy trees. Happy Mother's Day!

Endymion painted in this 
room - finished January 20, 1844

Una Hawthorne 
stood on this window 
sill January 22, 1845
while trees were all 
glass chandeliers - a godly
show which she liked
much tho' only ten
months old.

@thetrustees #oldmanse #endymion #windowpane #mothersday
  • Houghton is home to the @harvardtheatre collection (HTC), one of the largest performing arts collections in the world. The collection contains many gems, from prompt books to set pieces and other props to playbills to musical scores and beyond.⠀
A recently unearthed box from HTC contains dozens of stereographic cards, mostly of 19th-century ballets. A stereograph is an early form of 3D photograph and a predecessor of the Polaroid. It consists of two nearly identical images placed side-by-side on a piece of cardboard, which are then viewed through an instrument called a stereoscope. The stereoscope depicts the left-eye and right-eye views of the scene as a single 3D image. This method of photo-viewing was popularly used for theatre, other forms of art, political events, and wars.⠀
These particular stereographs depict "La Biche au Bois," a ballet of the "féerie" style (a French theatrical genre known for fantasy plots and spectacular visuals). They're also painted such that when you hold a light to the images, they transform from black-and-white to vibrant color, with holes poked to mimic the "sparkling" nature of diamonds and eyes.⠀
Unfortunately, this box of stereographs is not cataloged in our system. This is truly a behind-the-scenes find!⠀
#theatre #theater #ballet #french #library #photography #photographie #harvard #19thcentury #1800s
  • Who's up for a game night!? Houghton's collection of English, French, German, and U.S. board and card games dating back to 1777-1905 (MS Eng 1749) is still in great condition. This "board" game -- which takes place on what's really more of a mat -- is titled "The Magic Ring" and described as "a new game, replete with humour and pleasant variety." The game was published in 1796 in London by Champante & Whitrow (who apparently also made candles).⠀
Judging from the written rules (not pictured), the play of the game seems to be a combination of Monopoly and Candyland. The player spins a tetotum (sort of a cross between a dice and a top), then must move the number of spaces corresponding to the spin. Each of the 50 illustrations on the mat gives the player a different direction (some of my favorites are listed below). When a player makes it to the 50th illustration in the middle of the mat -- "The Magic Ring" -- they must spin a 1-3 twice in order to gain possession of all the money in the collective pool and end the game.⠀
Two of my favorite game illustrations: #13 is titled "An Hostile Fairy," who "immediately takes the comer to No. 24, the Inn, leaving him [sic] there till another guest arrives, or he [sic] spins the same number at each go." #36 represents Cupid, who "wounds the comer with his arrow, and carries him [sic] to the fine Lady, No. 42, where he stays to tell his tale, till another sets him [and the Lady's likely bored ear] free; or he chuses [sic] to liberate himself [sic], by a fine of six counters to the bank." (Descriptions not pictured.) ⠀
#boardgames #18thcentury #19thcentury #20thcentury #gaming #england #london
  • Houghton is home to a large collection of @theartcraftcompany's early- to mid-20th-century 3-sheet posters advertising over 1,000 prominent theater productions, primarily in NYC and Boston (MS Thr 889). Fun fact: a 3-sheet is a poster 3 times the size of a typical 1-sheet poster. We need our "Cadillac" trucks to haul these posters out into the Reading Room!⠀
Back in 1956, the Broadway musical "Bells Are Ringing" premiered at the Shubert Theater. The production was the brainchild of musical-comedy duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who collaborated for 60 years on such acclaimed works as "Singin' in the Rain" and "On the Town."⠀
"Bells Are Ringing" -- which took home 2 Tony Awards in 1957 -- tells the story of eccentric telephone answering service employee Ella Peterson. Ella dreams up elaborate identities for her clients as she listens in on others' lives, including for a man named Jeff with whom she falls in love. ⠀
#modern #harvardlibrary #theater #theatre #NYC #newyork #broadway #librariesofinstagram #poster #houghtonlibrary #20thcentury #tonyawards
  • Happy Gore Vidal’s birthday! ⠀
He was born Oct. 3, 1925, and would have been 92 years old today.⠀
Gore Vidal hand-wrote all of his first drafts. He usually inscribed on each of them the day and place he begun them in the top left-hand corner as this one: “6-1-1985; Rome” which became Empire: a novel published in 1987.  This novel portrays the conjunction of government and mass media in the creation of the fictional newspaper dynasty of half-sibling characters, Caroline and Blaise Sanford. As always Gore Vidal was trying to share lessons from American history with his nation which he referred to as the “United States of Amnesia.”⠀
This part of the collection is currently being processed by Jennifer Lyons, manuscript cataloger at Houghton. [MS Am 2350 (4620)]⠀
The library has been the center of Vidal studies since his papers were opened for research in 2007.
  • Cooler temperatures in the spring delayed the season, but strawberries are now abundant in farmers markets throughout the Cambridge/Boston area.⠀
To celebrate their tasty goodness, here is a rather interesting strawberry from a French fortune telling volume from 1532, "Le liure de passe temps de la fortune des dez" [Typ 515.32.804]. This is a translation of a 15th century Italian original by Lorenzo Spirito.⠀
Three dice would be cast relating to a question, here it is whether a woman's child was a boy or a girl, leading one to circular diagrams of zodiacal symbols, and finally on to 56 numbered "answers" under the names of prophets. ⠀
The 1482 Italian edition (which Houghton sadly doesn't have), instead of flowers, has an assortment of figures in the middle for this section: sun, moon, star, scorpion, griffon, heart, unicorn, etc.⠀
#fortune #fate #astrology #fortunetelling #16thcentury #rarebook #french #italian #strawberry #dice #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary #bookstagram #librariesofinstagram
  • "John Lithgow: Actor as Artist," a look of the the actor’s talents for drawing as well as drama, has been extended through Thursday, September 7, due to popular demand.⠀
This featured drawing is a caricature of the entire 1998 M. Butterfly original Broadway cast—Lithgow himself included—and is one of the many cast drawings currently displayed on the Library’s ground floor. Join us for this encore performance.⠀
[MS Thr 396]⠀
Original description of the exhibition: "John Lithgow enrolled at Harvard in 1963, intent on becoming a painter. Even as a professional actor, he has never lost interest in the visual arts. To honor Lithgow as this year’s recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, Houghton Library presents an exhibition of the actor’s drawings, featuring designs for student productions at the Loeb Drama Center and caricatures depicting his career on Broadway and in television, including memorable performances in M. Butterfly, the hit sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Netflix’s The Crown."⠀
#lithgow #mbutterfly #exhibition #broadway #harvardartsmedal #caricature #drawing #artsfirst #populardemand #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary
  • Check out the Harvard Gazette today ( for a featured article related to our current exhibition, "Henry David Thoreau at 200," which made Editor's Pick.⠀
"As the bicentennial nears for the birth of Henry David Thoreau [July 12], it’s clear that Harvard College influenced the churlish naturalist far more than he would have admitted, author says."⠀
The image is from AC85.T3912.854w (B), and is Thoreau's friend Daniel Ricketson’s copy of Walden (1854), with his extensive manuscript annotations concerning his friendship with Thoreau, visits paid him by Thoreau, etc.  This is one of two portraits of Thoreau by Ricketson, pasted inside the front cover.⠀
Come see the exhibition until September 2nd, upstairs in the Amy Lowell Room.⠀
#thoreau #transcendentalist #nature #walden #manuscript #portait #librariesofinstagram #bicentennial #200 #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary #exhibition
  • First published in 1570, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is generally regarded as the first modern atlas, being a comprehensive suite of maps derived from empirical observations and issued together as a single work. Edited and published by the Flemish geographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), with plates engraved by Frans Hogenberg, the Theatrum was a great success, going through over twenty-five editions in various languages. With each edition, new maps were added, and old ones altered or replaced as further European “voyages of discovery” filled in the expanses once designated terra incognita. The world map shown here is derived from earlier maps by Giacomo Gastaldi and others. ⠀
Buyers of the atlas could choose either a plain, uncolored version, or with the maps colored by hand, as in this copy from the 1574 Latin edition (Ortelius himself had started out as a map colorist, and for many years employed his sister Anne in this capacity).⠀
NC5.Or850.570tℓ. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Plate I: Typus Orbum Terrarum, 1570. ⠀
This is on display in Houghton's current exhibition, Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select, in the Edison and Newman Room until August 19, 2017.⠀
#maps #geography #engraving #ortelius #world #16thcentury #rarebook #color #handcolored #houghtonlibrary #librariesofinstagram #exhibition #harvardlibrary

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