Guide to the Research Collections



The Arents Tobacco Collection, the product of over forty years of collecting by George Arents, was first presented to the library in 1943-44; upon Arents's death in 1960, the collection was endowed to continue its function. The largest and most comprehensive library in the world on the history, literature, and lore of tobacco, the Arents Tobacco Collection is housed in rooms on the third floor of the library's Central Building along with the Arents Collection of Books in Parts, given in 1957. Among the furnishings of the rooms are association items from Arents' collection, including a wooden figure of an Indian chief, an eighteenth-century figure of a Scotsman holding a cigar box, and an early vending machine that opens when coins are inserted.1

In 1944 the Arents Tobacco Collection contained more than 4,000 pieces in twenty languages. By 1956 it had grown to include more than 7,000 items in twenty-six languages, including Bulgarian, Japanese, Latin, and Lithuanian. The Tobacco Collection presently includes more than 12,000 books and manuscripts. In addition are approximately 125,000 cigarette cards, along with other materials related to tobacco, such as sheet music, drawings, and prints. The collection is remarkable for the superb condition of its holdings. Arents attempted to obtain the finest or most interesting copy available of a book or pamphlet sought; this policy has been followed by the curator.

Although the collection is devoted to tobacco and includes almost every important work dealing with the subject, it also contains many historical and literary works in which tobacco receives only incidental mention. Among the fields represented in the collection are American and English literature (with special emphasis on Restoration drama) and medicine. Materials as diverse as rare herbals, government proclamations and edicts from Europe and the Americas, and early records of travel in the New World complement the holdings of other parts of the Research Libraries.

In addition to its comprehensive holdings on the history of tobacco, the Arents Tobacco Collection has a representative collection on the technical aspects of the subject; covered are such topics as "Smoking and Health," "Chemical Composition of Tobacco," "Tobacco Manufacture," and "Tobacco Marketing."


The library has published the Arents Tobacco Collection series of books on the history or lore of tobacco, primarily facsimiles of significant, and often amusing, manuscripts in the collection, beginning with A Few Words about Pipes, Smoking, & Tobacco (1947).

The contents of the collection are described in a catalog compiled by Jerome E. Brooks entitled Tobacco: Its History Illustrated by the Books, Manuscripts and Engravings in the Library of George Arents, Jr.2 A continuing supplement to that catalog has been issued; in all, ten parts of the supplement, entitled Tobacco: A Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts and Engravings Acquired Since 1942, have appeared since 1958.3 Items in both the catalog and its supplement are arranged chronologically, commencing with the earliest work held in the collection, Waldseemüller's Cosmographiae introductio (1507). This supplemented catalog has been the public source of information about the collection; cards for the Arents Tobacco Collection do not appear in the Public Catalog. In the future, entries for new acquisitions will appear in the Dictionary Catalog of The Research Libraries.


The following general descriptions are intended to serve as a sampling of the materials found in the Arents Tobacco Collection.

Books and Rare Periodicals

Isolated issues of periodicals are retained when they contain articles relating to tobacco. The collection also holds rare serials such as Pipe Lover's Magazine, Bulletin de l'Association française contre l'Abus du Tabac, and Cope's Smoke Room Booklets and Other Publications.

Almost every American and English author of note is represented by first editions from the first work in the English language devoted entirely to tobacco, Anthony Chute's Tabaco (1595), through Aldous Huxley's Time Must Have a Stop (1944), and later publications. The list includes such rarities as Thomas Nash's Pierce Penilesse (1592), Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Laurence Stern's A Sentimental Journey (1768), Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Celestial Railway" (1846), Herman Melville's Mardi (1849), and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883). The range of works which refer to tobacco is large enough to include both A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604) issued anonymously by James I, and a popular celebration of tobacco in Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," published in The New-York Book of Poetry (1837).

The Arents Tobacco Collection contains a wealth of British plays. Although the works of Shakespeare, curiously enough, make no reference to tobacco, the other great Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights are well represented. There are the two "humour" plays of Ben Jonson, Every Man out of His Humour (1600) and Every Man in His Humour (1616). There is a first folio edition of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher,

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as well as editions of some of their other plays. Other well-known sixteenth-and seventeenth-century dramatists whose works are in the collection are John Marston, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, and Edward Sharpham. Dramatists of the Restoration such as Congreve, Wycherley, and Farquhar are represented. Among European works of literature is a first separate edition of Molière's Le Festin de Pierre (1683).

American from the age of European discovery is particularly well represented by such items as Peter Martyr's De orbo novo decades (1516), the works of Thevet, Benzoni, and Acosta, and a fine set of De Bry, along with Dutch, Spanish, French, and English editions of Esquemeling's work on American buccaneers, De Americaensche Zeerovers (1678).

The collection of early herbals is good; the holdings are described in the section on botany in chapter 58 of this Guide. Medical books are a specialty; of particular interest are those advocating tobacco as a cure for all diseases and distresses, such as Nicolás Monardes's Segunda parte del libro de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales (1571) and Gilles Everaerts's De herba panacea (1587).4 There are rich holdings of medical books from the seventeenth century, including Edmund Gardiner's The Triall of Tobacco (1610), Stephen Bradwell's A Watchman for the Pest (1625), and Lorenz Strauss' Palaestra medica (1686), along with popular medical books such as James Primrose's De vulgi erroribus in medicina (1639) and The Kitchin-Physician, by "T.K." (1680).

Early dictionaries and grammars which mention tobacco are also present as, for example, John Florio's A Worlde of Words (1598), Jean Nicot's Thresor de la langue francoyse (1606), Ludovico Bertonio's Vocubulario dela lengua Aymara (1612), and a first edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

Government publications are not currently collected by the Arents Tobacco Collection; such publications on tobacco may be found in the Economic and Public Affairs Division, which receives publications of the United States Government and those of the Canadian National Government. There are, however, a good many government documents of an historical nature in the Arents Tobacco Collection, such as those relating to the tobacco monopoly in France and for similar government monopolies in other countries of Europe and the Americas.


There are many important manuscripts in the Arents Tobacco Collection. Of note are literary manuscripts such as "The Poor Labouring Bee" (ca. 1599) by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, a manuscript of "Court Eclogs" (1716) by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in the hand of Alexander Pope, Charles Lamb's "Farewell to Tobacco" (ca. 1805), Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest,5 and "Father Abraham," a first draft of part of William Faulkner's The Hamlet (1940). Other manuscripts include documents of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Catherine de Medici, and Louis XIV, among others.

A large group of manuscripts bears on the United States, Included are a letter, a receipt, and a document signed by George Washington; letters of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Carroll of Carrollton; and other manuscripts of figures famous in American history. In addition are Revolutionary tobacco payments and Confederate documents for rations. Of prime importance in this American group are the manuscripts of Robert Morris, including official copies of contracts, accounts, court evidence statements, and other items relating to suits involving Morris and various other parties as a result of his tobacco trade activities. There are 54 autograph letters of Morris, among them a tobacco contract negotiated by him between the United States and the Fermes Générales of France.

Further documents include commercial papers related to the tobacco trade in Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Georgia in the eighteenth century, and two receipt books of the New York City tobacconist James Bryer dated 1795 and 1807. A large group of manuscript documents comes from Frederick County, Maryland; ranging in date from the mid-eighteenth century, this group consists of bills of indictment, slave bills, tavern licenses, bills of sale, and the like.

Japanese manuscripts date from the early eighteenth century onward. A delicately illustrated rice paper manuscript (ca. 1773) called "Haensô No Ben" (A Farewell to Tobacco) contains poems on a universally expressed and often unrealized wish to abandon the "precious bane."

Sheet Music

Popular tunes range from "The Tobacco Box" of 1795 to modern titles such as "The Maple Leaf Rag," "My Little Murad," "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag," "Cigarette," and "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi." Of exceptional interest is a rich recent acquisition of sheet music produced in Victorian England. Other musical rarities are noted in chapter 31 of this Guide, "Music Division and General Music Resources."

Prints and Drawings

Pictorial representations of tobacco, tobacco pipes, and tobacco smoking include original drawings, watercolors, engravings, mezzotints, and aquatints. There are prints by Hogarth, Gillray, and Cruikshank, and by North American lithographers such as Currier and Ives. Drawings of Rowlandson, Lewis Baumer, Kate Greenaway, and Rackham are present. Twenty-seven sheets of pencil drawings by George Catlin depict pipes and stems found among the various Indian tribes of North America.

The cultivation and use of tobacco in the Western Hemisphere are documented by watercolor illustrations. Early examples of such drawings are the 31 superb illustrations in a Cuban manuscript of 1764, Nicolas José Rapun's "Instruccion general de el cultivo de tavacos." Perhaps the most notable contemporary drawings are 12 watercolors on Aztec and Mayan subjects executed in 1939 by Ariel Baynes, after the originals as reproduced in Lord Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico (1831-48).

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Tobacco Ephemera

A collection of posters, labels, trade cards, and stickers documents the history of tobacco. An exceptionally fine collection of cigarette cards numbers more than 125,000 pieces; included are more than 3,000 complete sets. Cards in this collection originated in England, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Siam, Spain, the United States, and other nations.