Special Collections of New York City
The Seymour B. Durst Old York Library Collection at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Ideal resource for:
- 774. The Material Culture of New York City: The 20th Century
- 2017 NEH Summer Institute, American Material Culture: 19th-Century New York
One of the great benefits of living and studying in New York is having the city’s many rare and archival special collections at your fingertips. One outstanding resource is The Seymour B. Durst Old York Library at the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. Seymour B. Durst, a commercial and residential real estate developer, was an avid collector of materials concerning New York history. According to the Durst Old York Library website:
“…he had a personal lifelong passion for collecting published and archival materials on New York and its history, through architectural, cultural heritage and urban planning perspectives. By the time of his death in 1995, his ‘Old York Library’ collection had taken over virtually his entire five-story townhouse.”
Durst’s collection, which covers more than four centuries and is focused largely on architecture, urban planning and cultural heritage, contains more than 40,000 objects. The collection includes over 9,000 books and historical pamphlets, landbooks and serial publications, 600 maps and New York City guidebooks, thousands of brochures, theatrical and musical performance programs, and menus. All this is in addition to more than 25,000 pictorial items which include postcards, illustrations and photographs. The collection provides invaluable historical information about New York City life, architecture, World’s Fairs, festivals and views of the city’s streets and structures from years past.
Much of the Durst Old York Library is digitized and available to browse online on the Old York Library website. Users can browse by format, neighborhood, borough and city. Objects depicting specific places are mapped and geotagged, enhancing research capabilities. In addition, to keep track of his collection, Durst designed his own custom classification system which researchers may also find useful.
If you’re enrolled in 774. The Material Culture of New York City: The 20th Century, if you have an interest in the BGC’s 2017 NEH Summer Institute, American Material Culture: 19th-Century New York, or if you’re just a New York history enthusiast, this extraordinary collection is truly a goldmine for scholars.
The following are other Columbia collections that may be of interest:
- Avery’s Architectural Novelties: https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/novelties
- Avery Architectural Ephemeral Collections: https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/ephemera
- New York Real Estate Brochure collection: http://nyre.cul.columbia.edu/
- John H. Yardley Collection of Architectural Letterheads:
(similar to the larger Biggert Collection http://biggert.cul.columbia.edu/, but the Yardley group is exclusively NYC content)
To see a physical item in the Durst Old York Library Collection, you can make an appointment with Avery Classics, Avery’s rare book department, through their website here via email or phone.