Reference Collection – Collection Development Policy

Definition of the Reference Collection

The Reference Collection is comprised of source materials needed to support the study, interpretation, organization, exhibition, and preservation of the Morgan’s special collections. Although the Reference Collection is consulted primarily by Morgan staff, it is available to researchers in conformity with the institution's aim as defined by its first director, Belle da Costa Greene: “to encourage quality of scholarship ... and to place at the disposal of serious advanced scholars every possible facility for the conduct of their research studies under the most favourable conditions.” 1

Subject scope


This section of the Reference Collection has always been exceptionally strong; indeed it can be described as a national resource. The Morgan collects works on manuscript illumination, paleography, and codicology on a comprehensive level, with special attention to monographs, catalogues, and facsimiles of manuscripts. In addition to its extraordinary collection of approximately 800 manuscripts in facsimile, the library holds several thousand offprints or reprints of articles discussing or referencing Morgan manuscripts.

The primary focus of the Department of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, and thus of the Reference Collection, has always been on Western manuscript illumination, with French being the largest national group, followed by Italian, English, German, Flemish, Dutch and Spanish. However, the Morgan also owns Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Arabic, Persian, and Indian manuscripts, and the Reference Collection acquires material for the study of these fields, though at a lesser level of intensity.

Additionally, the library acquires works which support iconographic, textual, paleographical, and art historical research into the library's collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts (and, to a lesser extent, its collection of early printed books and drawings).   


The Morgan collects a wide-ranging variety of studies devoted to the religious and secular imagery found in its collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The priority is on Christian imagery, with a secondary emphasis on secular and classical  iconography where relevant. Works on iconography in later European art are acquired to a lesser extent.


The Reference Collection holds an extensive range of studies of the field of paleography, and incorporates the library of the great paleographer E.A. Lowe, whose papers are preserved in the Morgan Library Archives. The emphasis is on Western European paleography.

The collection includes selected works on the history of European (mainly Christian) religion, spanning the Early Christian to Reformation periods, with only a few works on other periods, or on non-Western religion. Largely excluded are exegetical works or those treating religion from an ethical, philosophical, or sociological point of view.

Studies of specific liturgical rites and usages (Roman, Gallican, Ambrosian, etc.) useful in dating or identifying manuscripts or in studying various types of service books are acquired, as are bibliographies and catalogues of manuscript and early printed service books. Also acquired are studies of monastic orders and specific monasteries closely involved with the production of manuscripts or having important libraries.

Holdings include critical editions of theological and patristic texts that the Morgan  possesses in manuscript form; texts of other early Christian or medieval theologians and religious writers are acquired selectively, focusing chiefly on those closely related to items in the Morgan’s collections, or bearing on the study of manuscript illuminated (e.g. commentaries on the Apocalypse other than that of Beatus).



The Morgan maintains comprehensive holdings on draftsmen who figure prominently in its collection, such as Blake, Boucher, Claude Lorrain, Degas, Delacroix, Dürer, Gainsborough, Guercino, Hogarth, Parmigianino, Piranesi, Rembrandt, Rubens, the Tiepolos, Van Dyck, Watteau, and Benjamin West, as well as holdings on modern masters, notably Cézanne, Dubuffet, Klee, Lichtenstein, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, and Schiele. It acquires catalogues and monographic studies of these artists’ works, including not only their drawings but, selectively, their work in other media.

Also acquired are catalogues of public and private collections of drawings related to the Morgan’s collection, along with all works on the media, techniques, collecting, and connoisseurship of old master drawings. Additionally, the library acquires studies of drawing organized by national school, from the 15th to the 21st centuries. The emphasis is on Italian, French, British, Dutch, Flemish and German schools, and also American drawing and modern and contemporary works on paper. Works on architectural drawing and theatrical drawing are also held, as are reference works on set, scene, and costume design from the mid-16th to the mid-20th century.


Because of its close relationship to drawing and to book illustration, the history of printmaking is of fundamental importance for both the Department of Drawings and Prints and the Department of Printed Books. The collection seeks comprehensive coverage of works on the prints of Rembrandt, Blake, Piranesi, and material pertaining to the Morgan’s collections of English engraved portraits, as well as works on 15th century woodcuts, and prints related to drawings in the Morgan’s collection. It emphasizes European and American printmaking; its areas of greatest strength include 15th century woodcuts, 17th century Dutch, and 18th and 19th century French and English schools. It also includes a good working collection on printmaking techniques and materials, especially those processes related to book illustration.


The library acquires basic reference works and specialized studies related to items in the curatorial collections, especially its substantial holdings of English political caricatures and portraits. Its focus is primarily on 18th and 19th century English works, and secondarily on 20th century American work as relates to the Morgan’s collection of New Yorker cartoons.


Works on fine and decorative arts are collected to support research on the art works owned by the Morgan, such as paintings and art objects displayed in the East and West Rooms and Rotunda, rather than to facilitate more broad-based art historical research. Accordingly, reference holdings reflect the geographical and chronological emphases of the curatorial collections, with the first priority being to acquire material on artists represented at the Morgan.

The areas of greatest strength are on French, Italian, Dutch and Flemish, English, and German art, with selected holdings on Eastern European and American art; the primary focus is medieval to 20th century. We acquire comprehensively for artists prominently represented in the curatorial collections, as well as basic reference works on 19th and 20th century art, and selectively, ancient art. Works on Migration Period art are acquired only when specially relevant to the study of the manuscript collection, or the Thaw collection of early medieval ornaments.


The Morgan acquires catalogues of public and private collections owning material related to its own, material on collectors and collecting, forgery and imitation, and the history of patronage and connoisseurship. It acquires both general and specialized works on conservation and preservation; basic works on museum management, and standard directories of museums, art galleries, and art libraries. Works on analysis and appreciation of fine arts, and works on artistic techniques and media in the fine arts as a whole are acquired on a minimal level.


The library’s emphasis is on acquiring catalogues and studies of artists whose works the Morgan owns in any media; a secondary emphasis is on collections and studies of painting from periods or schools which figure significantly in the Morgan’s collection, with a particular interest in oil-sketches and watercolor painting. Holdings are chiefly related to European and American schools, with some basic reference works on Eastern painting relevant to Eastern manuscript illumination.


The collection includes selected works on European architecture from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, as well as works supporting research on the architecture of the Morgan Library. In addition to works on architectural drawing, the bulk of our reference materials on architecture consist of studies of church architecture and decoration as they pertain to the study of medieval art.


Holdings are primarily limited to European sculpture from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. The library collects all studies of sculptures owned by the Morgan, and catalogues and studies of sculptors if the institution owns their works in other media. Selected works on medieval sculpture are acquired to support the study of manuscript illumination and medieval art objects owned by the Morgan.


The library acquires works for the study of objects owned by the Morgan, such as the Stavelot Triptych, the Basin Portable Shrine, the Malmesbury Ciborium and other treasures of medieval goldwork, art metalwork and enamelwork, including works related to the study of the Thaw collection of early medieval ornaments. It also collects selected works on textiles, stained glass, and church ornament. It holds only basic reference works on European decorative arts, principally medieval to 18th century.


Holdings reflect the scale of the growing collection of the Morgan’s Photography department, founded in 2012, and its curatorial philosophy, which focuses at once on the social, geographic, and functional breadth of photography as an historical force and on the artistic careers of individuals. Camera artists represented most substantially in holdings at the Morgan include Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, Edward Curtis, Peter Hujar, Duane Michals, Irving Penn, and Aaron Siskind.



The Reference Collection supports all aspects of the study of the printed book as an object, including works on printing, binding, paper and papermaking, book illustration and decoration, and bookplates. Major categories also include catalogues of the libraries of individuals and institutions; national and regional retrospective bibliographies; checklists and censuses of imprints; price lists; and monographs on book production, the book trade, reading, and collecting. 

The collection seeks comprehensive coverage of some topics, such as bookbindings, fifteenth-century imprints (incunables), and masterpieces of sixteenth-century typography and book illustration. In some ways it complements the holdings of the Printed Books  department, which also collects in the area of antiquarian bibliography. It is particularly rich in in early catalogues, histories of printing, and early technical treatises. Bibliographers have come to regard the Morgan as an important research center because of its retrospective coverage and up-to-date acquisitions.

Areas of specific strength include holdings related to Gutenberg, Caxton, Aldus Manutius and the Aldine Press; the works of William Blake, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and William Morris; and the history of children’s literature. Noteworthy strengths related to the 20th century book include literature on private presses; the book illustration of Henri Matisse; and the works of James Joyce and the symbolist author Alfred Jarry.

The Reference Collection has early catalogues and bibliographies that would be considered “rare” in most research libraries, but at the Morgan these are intended for easy consultation in the Reading Room.

The Antiquarian Reference Collection

The Printed Books Department has built up a notable collection of “books on books”,  including early bibliographies, catalogues, printing manuals, early guides for collecting, and other documents of the book trades that shed light on the production, distribution and consumption of early books. The catalogues contain provenance information, data on prices, and precedent for describing salient features of books such as bindings and annotations. These books are a continuing priority of the department, which, however, must consider the possibility of duplicating the similar holdings in the Grolier Club Library. The dividing line between acquisition by Printed Books or the Reference Collection is drawn on the basis of an item’s requirements for special care and its potential for exhibition.



The Reference Collection acquires bibliographies, catalogues, and checklists of autograph collections similar to the Morgan's; all major works on the collecting of autographs and autograph manuscripts; and, selectively, reference works on post-Renaissance writing and writing materials, calligraphy, and forgeries of modern manuscripts.


Scores of composers represented in Department of Music Manuscripts & Printed Music are acquired both in printed form and as manuscripts in facsimile; the collection holds numerous facsimiles of musical autographs by Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart. It also holds bibliographies and catalogues of music manuscripts; composers’ thematic catalogues; biographical resources, including letters, biographies, autobiographies, and biographical dictionaries; critical studies; histories of opera and of Victorian music and theatre; periodicals devoted to Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Mozart, Schubert and Verdi; selected works on music printing; and major reference works on Gilbert & Sullivan. The Morgan also acquires works on Gregorian chant to support its collection of medieval manuscripts. Holdings are limited to the study of European and American music, from early music through the 20th century.


The library acquires selectively in the field, and is home to Dr. Edith Porada’s large collection of offprints and pamphlets. It maintains a dedicated body of periodical literature in print and online formats.


Literature on the conservation of works on paper and parchment is acquired for use in the Morgan’s Thaw Conservation Center, and includes studies and handbooks on the preservation of drawings, prints, photographs, illuminated manuscripts, bookbindings, and literary and historical manuscripts, as well as historic technical treatises, conference proceedings, and periodicals.


The Reference Collection collects biographical and historical literature with substantial material on Pierpont Morgan and his immediate family and ancestors. Much of this is assembled in the section known as “Mr. Morgan’s Library”, which gathers material on Morgan’s activities as a collector and financier; materials on the history Morgan Library, including its architectural history; all of its official reports, publications and exhibition catalogues; and items concerning its benefactors and past directors.

The following subjects are acquired selectively:

Individual biography, standard scholarly biographies and editions of letters, journals, etc., of authors, printers, artists, musicians, and historical figures prominently represented in or closely related to the special collections.

Collective biography, standard current and retrospective biographical dictionaries and directories.

Genealogy and heraldry, standard works on genealogy and heraldry, and more specialized works if relevant to collection items or likely to be useful in studying their provenance.

History, current standard histories and chronologies of the major geographic areas, these being chiefly European and American. The library acquires selectively specialized studies of political and social history where relevant, but does not attempt to develop an intensive collection for any area or period.

Geography and Travel,  major reference works on early European voyages of discovery and related material on early maps, globes, and charts. Standard geographic sources, including modern gazetteers and atlases and important historical and specialized subject atlases, chiefly European and American in scope. Selected discursive works of description and travel, concentrating chiefly on regions and topics of particular interest. 

Literature, chiefly European and American, with primary emphasis on English, American, and French literature; German, Italian, and Spanish literature are of secondary importance. Only a few, very basic works on other European literature, and on non-Western literature are acquired. Coverage includes classical antiquity to the present, with special emphasis on classical and medieval works for which the Morgan owns manuscript versions; 19th century English and American literature; 17th to 19th century French  literature; and early children's literature.

The main categories of material include:

General reference works: the standard handbooks and encyclopedias, current and retrospective biographical directories, and standard histories and bibliographies of the major literatures represented in the special collections.

Standard critical editions, if available, of the most important texts for which the Morgan owns manuscript versions, and collected works of the literary authors it is particularly strong in, such as Jane Austen, William Blake, the Brownings, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, John Milton, John Ruskin, Henry David Thoreau, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, and William Wordsworth.
Specialized bibliographies, catalogues, checklists, and studies of the manuscript tradition and/or publishing history of authors represented in the special collections; biographies, letters, and journals of these authors.

Early children's literature: collection and exhibition catalogues dealing with early children's literature; studies in the publishing history of early children's literature; facsimiles of early children's books.

In general, the collection does not emphasize works on literary theory and criticism, nor purely interpretative studies of individual authors.

Language and philology, chiefly monolingual, bilingual, polyglot, and specialized (e.g. art or book-trade terminology) European language dictionaries. The collection includes  good current dictionaries for all modern European languages, dictionaries for the non-European languages most important to the Morgan, e.g. Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, standard editions of the medieval European languages most important to the special collections (English, French, German), and standard dictionaries of classical and medieval Greek and Latin. Holdings on philology, linguistics, and etymology are minimal and will remain so. In general, dictionaries are to be preferred in electronic format going forward.

Costume, material on medieval and Renaissance costume needed to support the study of illuminated manuscripts.

Theatre [see also DRAWING], basic works on the history of the theatre, including material on the Victorian stage, to support the Gilbert & Sullivan Collection, and on set and stage design, to support the Oenslager collection. In general, though, the Morgan relies on the Performing Arts branch of New York Public Library for in-depth material on this topic.

Games and Amusements, little acquired, except for catalogues of collections of rare books on these topics, or works likely to illuminate special collection items (such as works on the calendar, astrology, alchemy, zoology, medicine, and early globes and mapmaking).

Agriculture, Gardening, Botany, also little acquired, save for works supporting the study of herbals and of the material in Jane Norton Morgan's collection.

Social Sciences are largely out of scope, except for some material on medieval education, including histories of universities and schools founded in the Middle Ages, histories of reading, including bibliographies or primers and early textbooks; works on cookery and gastronomy; and other works closely related to the special collections.

Responsibility for Reference Collection

Responsibility for book selection is shared by the the head of the Reference Collection and the curatorial departments, with final authority vested in the head of the Reference Collection. The care and maintenance of the Reference Collection, including cataloguing, storage, and conservation, is the responsibility of the department.

General priorities and limitations governing selection

Degree of continuing support for strong collections

The guiding principle will continue to be building upon strength, particularly in areas where the Reference Collection is an important scholarly resource in its own right. If, however, the library acquires special collections in areas previously unsupported by the Reference Collection, an attempt will be made to provide the basic tools needed to support the new acquisitions.

Availability elsewhere

If a reference work is readily available at the New York Public Library, the Frick Art Reference Library, the Metropolitan Museum’s Watson Library, or Columbia University, it may not be acquired for the Reference Collection unless it is likely to be consulted frequently or unless it is closely related to an item in our curatorial collections.

Forms of material collected

The Reference Collection encompasses materials in all standard formats, subject to the following conditions:


Monographs, catalogues raisonné, collection and exhibition catalogues, auction and sale catalogues, facsimiles, collected editions, biography, memoirs, literary criticism, conference proceedings and other research studies are acquired in print form, with exceptions made for large, print-oriented collected works available in stable and affordable electronic format. In choosing between a paper or electronic version of the same work, we prefer the paper for monographs, while for reasons of space and increased flexibility of use, compendia and periodical literature are to be preferred in electronic format going forward.

Electronic Resources

The library acquires electronic resources that support research in the curatorial collections or that are used in cataloguing and supporting the activities of museum and library services staff members. These include sale auction and provenance research databases, bibliographies, indexes, periodical literature, encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, and image databases. Many of these are available for consultation in our Reading Room, and staff may consult them through in-house resources.

Subscription databases are selected for their value as research tools and as substitutes for printed matter, i.e. JSTOR and DigiZeitschriften. Criterion for selection include an ability to download content, cost-effectiveness, frequency of updating, and overall stability. Free databases such as Persée and others maintained by governmental bodies are also trusted resources. Additionally, large collected works, such as the papers of the Founding Fathers (Founders Online) and the Loeb Classical Library may be preferred in electronic form, both for their added content and for reasons of space and economy. 

The library does not maintain a large collection of free-standing CD-ROMs or DVDs, as their operating system requirements may result in obsolescence over a relatively short period of time. The library does retain a small collection of microfilms.

Languages and Translations

a. Non-European language materials

Although no languages are categorically excluded from the Reference Collection, the nature of the special collections makes it probable that most of the material needed to support them will continue to be English and European-language material. We will, however, acquire material in non-European languages if the work is appropriate to the collection.

b. Translations

For non-English language literary works, correspondence, etc., we will acquire both the original language version and the English-language translation, if requested. For treatises, biographies, interpretative works, exhibition catalogues, etc., we prefer the English language version if available.

Duplication of materials

Duplicate copies of reference works are not acquired, though requests for duplicate copies of frequently consulted ready reference tools are considered on a case by case basis. Four copies of each new Morgan exhibition catalogue will, however, be acquired for the Reference Collection: one to be placed in Mr. Morgan’s Library, one in the appropriate subject section, one in the Reading Room, and one in the Thaw Conservation Center.


Gifts are reviewed in accordance with the same criteria applied to purchases of new materials. Gifts are accepted by the Library with the understanding that once received they are the property of the Library. Unsolicited gifts may be kept or disposed of at the Library's discretion. Items not added to the collection may be sold; the proceeds will be used for the purchase of reference material.

Exchange and Inter-Library Loan

The Morgan does not participate in exchange programs with other institutions, and does not participate in inter-library loaning.


Reference material meeting the following conditions will be weeded from the Reference Collection at the discretion of the head of the Reference Collection in consultation with the curatorial staff:

Material whose value as a reference tool is dependent on its being up to date, such as directories, almanacs, biographical dictionaries, etc.; compendia which displaces great amounts of space and may be consulted in electronic format; material in very poor physical condition, provided that a replacement copy has been acquired and that the old copy does not contain annotations which make it desirable to keep; material which does not meet the selection criteria appropriate to the Reference Collection.

Withdrawn items may be sold, and the proceeds used for the purchase of reference material.

1 Pierpont Morgan Library, The Pierpont Morgan Library: a review of the growth, development and activities of the library during the period between its establishment as an educational institution in February 1924 and the close of the year 1929 (New York: [The Library], 1930), 8.