John Wilson Special Collections

The John Wilson Special Collections holds rare books and important research collections.

When local merchant John Wilson died in 1900, he left his personal book collection to the Library Association of Portland. This gift included manuscripts such as a Book of Hours, and early printed books such as the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Today, the John Wilson Special Collections includes more than 11,000 titles.

Features of the collection:

  • Materials demonstrating the history of the book including:
    • A clay tablet with cuneiform script from 2350 BC
    • The Handmade Papers of Japan, a study from 1952 that includes specimens going back to the 8th Century
    • Fine press books such as the Kelmscott Chaucer
    • Artists books such as La fable du Hasard by Warja Honegger-Lavater
  • The Native American literature collection including:
    • The first books written by Leslie Silko (Laguna Pueblo), N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek) and James Welch (Blackfeet)
    • Beautifully printed broadsides of poetry
    • Manuscripts and correspondence by native writers
  • The natural history collection including:
    • a complete set of the double elephant folio of Birds of America by John James Audubon (appointment required)
    • Les Roses by Pierre Joseph Redouté, commissioned by Empress Josephine
    • A 1903 Ashendene Press edition of A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle by Dame Juliana Berners
  • The Pacific Northwest collection including:
    • early maps of Portland
    • records from the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905
    • the first novel published in Oregon, Captain Gray's Company by Abigail Scott Duniway

The room also hosts strong collections in children's and English literature.

A selection of items have been digitized and can be viewed online in The Gallery.

Plan your visit to the John Wilson Special Collections. If you are interested in making an appointment or arranging a tour, please contact Special Collections Librarian Rachael Short through our contact form.

Donors to The Library Foundation have generously helped Multnomah County Library expand these special collections and increase the exposure of these rare materials to the public. For more information about supporting these collections, contact Laura Fay at The Library Foundation.

Supported by gifts to The Library Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation and reach through private support.