Latin American Imprints

The John Carter Brown Library’s collection of books printed in or relating to Spanish and Portuguese America is among the finest in the world. In some areas, the collections are unmatched and include works found nowhere else in the world. The Library has the largest collection in the world of books printed in Spanish America as a whole prior to ca. 1820, close to 7,000 titles, encompassing the output of presses in Mexico, Peru, Central America, Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere.

In a recent census of the first books to come off the Mexican presses, between 1539 and 1600, Rosa María Fernánez de Zamora (2009) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that the John Carter Brown Library holds more than any other library in the world, at 63. The actual number is slightly higher, in fact, if one includes an unrecorded Inquisition broadside from 1569 and some printed notarial forms as well. Next is the Instituto Techológico de Monterrey (Mexico), with 62, the Huntington Library with 52, the British Library with 49, The Benson Library at the University of Texas as Austin with 47, and the New York Public Library with 46. The Library’s holdings of Mexican imprints to the year 1822 is in excess of 4,000.

The John Carter Brown Library’s holdings of Peruvian Americana of the colonial, independence, and early national periods are likewise exceptional. The Library has one of the five largest collections of early Peruana in the world; others, in order of antiquity, are those of the National Library of Perú, the Fondo José Toribio Medina of the National Library of Santiago de Chile, Yale University Library, and the Rubén Vargas Ugarte Collection, now in the Biblioteca de la Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. As with Mexico, the Library holds more early Lima imprints than any other library. Of the 17 known works printed in Lima between 1584 and 1600, the Library holds 8, followed by the National Libraries of Chile and Spain with 6 each, the British Library with 5 and Harvard with 4. Overall, the JCBL’s collection of books printed in Peru through circa 1825 is approaching 1,000, approximately 20% of the known titles.

In 1983, perhaps the most distinguished librarian of modern Brazil, the former director of the Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro and of the United Nations Library in New York, the late Rubens Borba de Moraes, published a revised and enlarged edition of his Bibliographia Brasiliana: Rare Books about Brazil published from 1504 to 1900 and works by Brazilian authors of the Colonial period (Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, 1983). Borba wrote in his acknowledgments: “I have rummaged through many a library, bookstore, and private collection in several countries. Most of all, I have used the New York Public Library for its Lenox Collection, indispensable for the Americanist. The John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, is no less excellent, and for Brazilian studies it is perhaps the finest.” Our Portuguese and Brazilian collection includes nearly 1,600 items.

Although no formal survey has yet been done, it is probable that the JCB has one of the largest collections in the world of books printed in whole or part in Amerindian languages before 1800, taking into account all of the languages of the Americas, North and South. Of the seven books printed in Lima prior to 1600 that include Quechua, for example, the JCB holds six, and the seventh can be consulted via microfilm surrogate; no other library in the world can make that claim. The Library’s holdings related to the Guaraní missions of Paraguay is unparalleled, and includes seven of the nine known books printed in the missions, and a recently-acquired and previously-unknown manuscript that includes an introduction to Christian doctrine, a confession manual, and a collection of sermons, all in the Guaraní language.

Some useful overviews of our holdings relating to Latin America can be found in two exhibition catalogs, The Book in the Americas, and Spanish Historical Writing About the New World, 1493-1700. The recently-published Portuguese and Brazilian Books in the John Carter Brown Library includes a complete listing of our Portuguese and Brazilian holdings, current up to 2005, and the on-line bibliography, Indigenous Languages of the Americas in the John Carter Brown Library is a continuously updated catalog.

Approximately 90 percent of the JCB’s collection is accessible online, either through the Brown University online catalogue, known as Josiah, or through OCLC’s Worldcat.  We continue to maintain a card catalogue, as well, which still offers several advantages over the online version. With the exception of our Mexican imprints, all of our Spanish and Portuguese language titles are searchable on-line, via Brown’s Josiah catalog, or via OCLC. The JCB is collaborating with the Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research (CBSR) at UC Riverside as they elaborate the Catalogo Colectivo de Impresos Latinoamericanos, similar to the English Short Title Catalog. In the future, our holdings, along with the holdings of other participating libraries, will be listed there, and we have provided the CBSR with links to the JCB’s digital surrogates hosted by the Internet Archive.

The University Library system includes its own Special Collections and rare book division, the John Hay Library, which has rich holdings in several areas closely related to those at the JCB, including the Church Collection which is strong in 19th-century Latin America. The general libraries hold nearly 3 million volumes, and tens of thousands of microfilms, microfiche, manuscripts, and documents. Among the microfilms, researchers can consult a selection of the Medina collection held by the National Library of Chile and filmed by the JCB in the 1930s and 1940s. Finally, the University Library subscribes to hundreds of proprietary electronic reference materials to which all JCB fellows have access. These materials have been gathered together in Brown University Library's Latin American, Spanish and Caribbean Resources.

For more information about the Latin American collection at the library, please consult the Curator of the Latin American Collection, Ken Ward.