The Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room of the Library of Congress holds a number of rare books of Croatian origin or interest, but the oldest work is the undisputed crown jewel of the collection - Misal po zakonu rimskoga dvora, commonly called the the Glagolitic missal of 1483. Written in the Croatian recension of Church Slavic and printed in the Glagolitic alphabet, this is the earliest known printed book in Croatian. The work was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1930 as part of the Otto Vollbehr Collection of Incunabula. The Library's copy of the Catholic missal has a unique drawing of a woman wearing a crown inside the front cover. This image is reproduced on the introduction page of this guide.
The Rare Books and Special Collections Division holds five pre-1800 editions of works by Marko Marulić (1450-1524), the Croatian national poet and humanist from Split. All five works are in Latin and they include two titles published during his lifetime: De institutione bene vivendi per exempla sanctorum [Instructions on how to lead a virtuous life based on the examples of saints] from 1506, one of his most well-known works on Christian morality, and Epistola ad Adrianum VI [Letter to Pope Hadrian VI.] from 1522, in which Marulić describes the troubles brought on by the Ottoman invasions. The other three pre-1800 titles by Marulić are an 18th-century edition of Regum Dalmatiae et Croatiae gesta [Deeds of the Dalmatian and Croatian kings], Marulic's Latin translation of the Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea; a 1593 edition of De institutione; and Animadversio in eos qvi beatvm Hieronymvm Italvm esse contendvnt [Against those who claim that St. Jerome was an Italian], his polemic about St. Jerome.
Almost all of the rare books related to Croatia in the Library of Congress rare book collection have some kind of Italian connection due to their geographic proximity and common history along the Adriatic, with Dalmatia in particular being a frequent topic. Even the missal shares this Italian connection as Venice and Rome have been suggested as possible places of publication. Travelogues feature prominently in the collection with titles such as Travels into Dalmatia; containing general observations on the natural history of that country and the neighboring islands and Voyage de Dalmatie, de Grece, et du Levant [Voyage to Dalmatia, Greece, and the Levant]. One of the most fascinating works is an account of the plague epidemic that spread from Bosnia to Dalmatia in 1783-1784, Storia della peste che regnò in Dalmazia negli anni 1783-1784 [History of the plague that reigned in Dalmatia in the years 1783-1784]. Written by a doctor from Split, Julije Bajamonti (1744-1800), the book blames the epidemic on the Morlachs of Dalmatia and Bosnia. Published in Rome in 1755 is De litteraria expeditione per pontificiam ditionem ad dimetiendos duos meridiani gradus et corrigendam mappam geographicam [On the literary expedition through the pontifical domain to divide the two meridian degrees and to correct the geographical map], co-written by Christopher Maire (1697-1767) and the Dubrovnik native Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711-1787), who was an astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and diplomat. One of the few pre-1800 books in the collection in the Croatian language is a catechism published in Venice in 1775 Katekism rimski po naredbi s. Sabora Tridentinskoga k' parokima [Roman Catechism by order of the Council of Trent to the parishes].
A landmark work of interest to all of the South Slavic nations is the original 1601 printing of Il regno degli Slavi hoggi corrottamente detti schiauoni [Realm of the Slavs] by Mauro Orbini (1550-1611), a Benedictine monk from Dubrovnik (Ragusa). Although Orbini incorporated unsubstantiated legends and chronicles, his history of the Slavs, with a special focus on the South Slavs, also relied on many other sources including works by Orthodox and Protestant writers which were banned by the Vatican, resulting in his work being banned as well in 1603. Also in the Library of Congress Rare Book collection is the 1722 Russian translation of Orbini's history Knīga Istorīograḟīi︠a︡ pochatīi︠a︡ imene, slavy, i razshīrenīi︠a︡ naroda slavi︠a︡nskogo [Book of historiography on the origins of the name, glory and expansion of the Slavic people], translated by Sava Vladislavić (1669-1738), a diplomat from Herzegovina and Dubrovnik who served on behalf of the Russian tsar Peter the Great. Il regno degli Slavi and its Russian translation were of enormous significance for the historiography of the South Slavs and the Pan-Slavic philosophy.
From the 20th century the collection of Croatian rare materials is not strong with scattershot holdings such as two Croatian books that formerly belonged to Adolph Hitler in the Third Reich Collection, three books about Dalmatia in the Woodrow Wilson collection, three unrelated limited editions, and a facsimile of the 15th century Glagolitic Vinodol codex Breviarium novi II. The Library also holds a number of translations into Croatian of works by American authors such as Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, and Bernard Malamud, as well as the translation by Iso Velikanović of Don Quixote from 1931 which was donated by the bibliophile and Cervantes collector Leonard Kebler. All materials held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room must be used onsite, unless there happens to be a digitized version on the Library of Congress website.
Below is a selection of items housed in the Rare Books and Soecial Collections Reading Room which are related to Croatia or Dalmatia in some way. They are presented in chronological order by date of publication. For all titles, follow the links for fuller bibliographic descriptions in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
The unique materials of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, now totaling over 1 million items, include books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. At the center is Thomas Jefferson's book collection, which was sold to Congress in 1815. The Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room is modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall. This room is home to the divisional catalogs, reference collection, and reference staff. Collections are stored in temperature and humidity controlled vaults.