The library contains approximately 900,000 volumes, including monographs and exhibition catalogs; over 11,000 periodical titles; and more than 125,000 auction and sale catalogs. It also provides access to an extensive collection of electronic resources (including numerous indexes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, online journals, databases, and Internet resources), autograph letters, and ephemera files relating to individual artists and to the history of the Museum.
The reference collection includes a broad range of resources for art historical research as well as relevant material for history, mythology, religion, biography, and travel, among other subjects.
The library possesses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of auction and sale catalogs, dating from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. The collection includes extensive historical holdings of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Hôtel Drouot, Dorotheum, Phillips, and many other small auction houses, both American and international. In addition, numerous online resources provide sale catalog information and auction results.
Gifts from J. Pierpont Morgan, Samuel Putnam Avery, and other founders and early trustees of the Museum established the foundation of the library’s rare book collection. Generous donors provide funding for the continuing growth of this already strong collection of treatises on art and architecture, early travel books, archaeological studies, rare collection catalogs, early trade catalogs, artists’ manuals and handbooks, complete runs of seminal journals, fencing books, scrapbooks, fine bindings, and examples of fine printing.
The more than 5,000 manuscript items in the collection include Samuel Putnam Avery’s European travel diary, about 1,400 autograph letters to and from Sir Richard Westmacott, and numerous other autograph letters and papers relating to prominent artists.
Vertical file collections contain information on more than 20,000 artists and extensive holdings of press clippings, brochures, and other ephemeral material relating to the history of the Museum from the 1870s to the present.
Watson Library is one of four libraries in the world to hold the 422-reel microfilm copy of the Duveen Brothers Archive (1876-1981). The records of the Duveen Brothers fine art dealership, which operated from 1869 to 1964 in London, Paris, and New York, offers a detailed view of the business activities of this important firm of art dealers. The Archives are significant primary source material for many aspects of art historical scholarship, including the history of collecting.