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Rare Books

Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
609-258-3184
Curator of Rare Books
609-258-9942

William Nelson Collection of New Jerseyana
Location designator: Nel

There are about 4,000 volumes in the collection, some 300 of which are bound books, the vast remainder being pamphlets. The collection includes the works of New Jersey men and women, histories of the state, directories, maps, songbooks, regimental histories, campaign materials, publications of and about churches, clubs, libraries, business firms, catalogues pertaining to schools and colleges of New Jersey, publications of state offices and departments, and pamphlets on controversial issues.

A list of the Nelson Collection (as of 1920) is found on pp. 3409 to 3454 of Princeton University Library Classed List vol. 6 (Special Collections) (Princeton, 1920) [(ExB) 0639.7373.5]. [full text] The collection is considerably smaller today than it was in 1920, presumably because of material being transferred to other collections, such as the University Archives.

Some of the books in the Nelson collection at Princeton are described in the following article: William F. Collins, "A Private Library in New Jersey. Some Account of the Collection of Mr. William Nelson of Paterson" in The Literary Collector, Vol VI, No. 4 (August, 1903), p.101-108. [full text]

How and when the Nelson books came into possesion of the Library is explained by the following extract from a letter, dated October 14, 1905, written by William Nelson to Varnum Lansing Collins, a key figure in the Library at the time: "... I would say that the books which I sent to the Princeton University Library are on deposit, the title remaining in me. I wrote sometime ago, and now repeat it, that in case of my death, unless these books are claimed by my estate within one year after my death, they are to become the absolute property of the Library." William Nelson died on August 10, 1914. (Original of this letter in the Curatorial Documentary Files of the Rare Book Division, folder 'Nelson.')

Mrs. Walter K. Earle gift

Twenty-one printed items relating principally to the New Jersey Proprietary Councils from 1703-1749. Among the broadsides, pamphlets, and newspapers is Lewis Morris's "Some Observes on a Print, called An Advertisement, said to be published by order of the Council of Proprietors, by John Wills" [Printed ca. 1703], which seem to be unrecorded in any standard bibliography of Americana. For details see the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXVIII, 3 (Spring, 1967) p. 191 [full text].

Also refer to "New Jersey History in Two Collections: The New Jersey Historical Society and the Princeton University Library" [a description and catalogue of an exhibition] in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXXII, 3 (Spring, 1971) p. 161-172 [full text] .

See also the previous entry in this Guide, on New Jersey Imprints.