Adolph Sutro's Collection

The Sutro collection is the legacy of San Francisco entrepreneur, mayor, and philanthropist, Adolph Sutro. Sutro purchased books, archival collections, and antiquarian maps in order to build a world-class research collection that would be open to every citizen of San Francisco. In 1898, he died before constructing a library building and later the family donated the collection to the California State Library with the stipulation that it never leave the city of San Francisco. Our permanent home is now at San Francisco State University in the J.Paul Leonard Library — Sutro Library.

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Cover of Shakespeare's First Folio.

William Shakespeare's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th folios

The First Folio, printed in 1623, is the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays, produced seven years after his death. It contains 36 of his plays and is arguably one of the “most valuable material and cultural properties ever printed.” John Heminges and Henry Condell, fellow actors, partners, and peers of Shakespeare, published the First Folio to protect Shakespeare’s work from unauthorized bootleg copies and to share his genius. They knew that without publishing the First Folio, plays like Macbeth, Julius Cesar, and The Tempest would be lost to obscurity. There are currently only 235 known First Folios in existence and the Sutro Library holds the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios as well.

Portrait painting of a man with wavy brown hair in aristocratic clothing, leaning on a table set with paper, quill, and ink.

Sir Joseph Banks Manuscript Collection

During the Age of Discovery, Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1829) reigned over a system of networks which connected the British Empire to a global web of science, trade, and exploration. Banks believed that by studying the natural world through a scientific lens, man could unlock the mysteries of the world, and ultimately of the universe.

This collection consists predominately of manuscripts, as well as newspaper clippings, hand-written notes, and broadsides. Through his patronage as President of the Royal Society, Banks used his position to sponsor scientists and explorers who traveled to all corners of the globe reporting back to Banks periodically with discoveries and information. The Banks collection is thus rich in materials (botany, biology, wool, agriculture, drainage, and the physical sciences) which show the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution — about to explode from the British Isles.

Sepia photo of a man with large white mutton-chop sideburns astride a horse on a lane beside a garden.

Adolph Sutro Manuscript Collection

Business, political, personal correspondence; records of book purchases; campaign materials; copies of periodical articles about Sutro; visitor's registers and cards.

In 1850, a year after gold was discovered in California, Adolph Sutro, like many young men from around the world, was drawn to San Francisco with the promise of opportunities provided by the Gold Rush. After making his initial fortune through various business ventures related to mining, Sutro decided to permanently settle in the city, with the full intention of making San Francisco a sophisticated urban center. To that end, he sponsored parks, recreation, real estate development, and culture. One of his most inspired projects was building a world-renowned research library to rival the best in the world.

The manuscripts in this collection contain receipts and documents related to his collecting activity, as well as correspondence, Sutro Baths ephemera, photographs, architectural and engineering drawings, as well as items related to his run for mayor.

Regional and Subject Matter Collections

Aztec-style illustration of a serpentine monster biting off the foot of a man with an elaborate headdress and staff.

Mexicana Collection

In 1889 Adolph Sutro traveled to Mexico and purchased the contents of the Abadiano Bookstore. Until its closure in 1883, it had been Mexico City’s longest running bookstore and a principal publishing house. It also boasted a prestigious lineage of Mexican printers and publishers such as Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, María Fernández de Jáuregui, and Alejandro Valdés.

This collection is one of most comprehensive on early Mexican history and politics covering most of the 19th century. The Mexicana collection contains pre-independence manuscripts, maps, and over 30,000 pamphlets, broadsides, and monographs. Sutro Library holds 250 out of the 300 pamphlets known to be written by the journalist and novelist, José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (El Pensador Mexicano). There are between 8,000–9,000 pamphlets covering the War of Independence and the first ten years of the Mexican Republic (1810–1830), with many unique to this collection.

Cover of an old printed pamphlet, which reads: King Charls. His speech made upon the scaffold at Whitehall-Gate, immediately  before his execution, on Tuesday the 30 fo Jan, 1648. With a relation of the maner of his going to execution. Published by Special Authority. London: Printed by Peter Cole, at the Sign of the Printing Press in Cornhil, near the Royal Exchange. 1649.

English Pamphlets

Like social media does today, pamphlets served as a way to inform the public, as well as a way to sway popular opinion. Sutro Library’s collection of over 11,000 English pamphlets covers four centuries of history from the 1500s through the 1800s and has been described as one of the richest collections of its kind on the West Coast. Topics covered in the collection range from theological debates, to biographies, treatises, Corn laws, Poor laws, the American Revolution, as well as the British Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration. Parliamentary proceedings, remonstrances, and declarations join transcripts of speeches, criminal proceedings, executions. The collection holds works by famous authors, such as Burke, Hogarth, Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, William Pitt, and Samuel Johnson.

Stylized illustation of a black-skinned hand with long, painted fingernails, raised in a fist. On the fingernails are painted a rainbow, the female symbol, the flag of Mexico, the peace sign, and the symbol of Islam. Around the wrist are the words Planned Parenthood and Claire Gould. Filling the whitespace around the hand is the repeated word 'nasty.'

California Women's March Collection

On January 21, 2017 women throughout the United States and the world came together to unite as one movement in an expression of solidarity and hope. A diverse array of women, children, men, LGBTI, young and old marched to draw attention to a multitude of issues such as climate change, reproductive rights, and healthcare.

The Sutro Library collected materials from several different marches held in California, amassing the largest collection of 2017 Women’s March materials in the state. The collection consists of posters, buttons, pussy hats, sashes, t-shirts, photographs, first-person testimonials, and press coverage. The collection is fully processed and open for research.

Illustration of people in robes and plants around an eagle alighting on a cactus over a blue X.

Antiquities of Mexico Proof Sheets

Created by artist Agostino Aglio, these hand-painted original proof sheets went on be included in the multi-volume set Antiquities of Mexico published by Lord Kingsborough in 1831. Kingsborough believed that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were one of the "Lost Tribes of Israel" and spent his entire fortune on the publication, eventually ending him up in debtors’ prison. He had Aglio go to every archive in Western Europe to make facsimiles of Mayan and Aztec codices, as well as record descriptions of archaeological ruins for scholars to study.

Photo of a large wooden scroll elaborately marked in Hebrew.

Sutro Library Hebraica

In 1893 a scandal rocked the antiquities trade. It involved the sale of scroll fragments 900 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls to the British Museum by a Jerusalem dealer named Moses Shapira. San Francisco State University professor Chanan Tigay wrote a book about what has been dubbed "The Shapira Affair," documenting his search for the fragments and his quest to verify their authenticity. He solved this mystery by using the Hebraica collection Adolph Sutro purchased from the estate of Shapira in 1884.

The collection consists of Yemenite scrolls, bible fragments as well as books and documents ranging in subject matter from Bible commentaries to hermeneutics, lexicons, prayer books, philosophy, Cabalistic works, poetry, and medicine. They date from the 1200s through the 1800s.

Sepia outdoor photo of an elegant pavillion overlooking a garden with large fountain, paths, and benches.

Woodward's Gardens Collection

The collection consists of two series: correspondence and filecards pertaining to the Woodward's Gardens library. Series 1 contains correspondence to Robert B. Woodward (although some are addressed to others at Woodward's Gardens) about possible donations or sale of items and animals to the Woodward's Gardens' collections. Many of the letters have Woodward's draft replies penciled on them. series 2 contains handwritten file cards with biblographic information on books acquired by Adolph Sutro from Woodward's Gardens.

Photo two documents, one handwritten and apparently old, one printed and tightly justified in two columns.

Papers of Theodore Hittel

Theodore Hittell was an attorney, journalist, and amateur historian who came to San Francisco in 1855. He was hired almost immediately as a journalist, considered a dangerous profession in the early days of San Francisco. As Hittell later said, “there were occasions when I had to protect myself from angry men by quietly opening the drawer of my desk and taking out my pistol.” In 1858, Hittell returned to practicing law by day, and writing California history by night. A contemporary of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Hittell had unrestricted access to the United States Surveyor General’s office’s “Archives of California,” which contained pre-1850 Spanish and Mexican letters, proclamations, official orders, and other documents. This collection consists of handwritten research notes, correspondence, legal papers, and manuscripts of his writings (including an unpublished 1915 account of Walker's Nicaragua filibuster). Besides early California history, the collection features materials on Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada, and Ohio.

Close-up photo of what appears to be edge of the pages of a book with a seal faintly imprinted across them.

Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco

This collection of books was part of the first academic library in the New World. They are identifiable by their distinct firebrands on the top and/or bottom fore edge. The Colegio de Santa Cruz was officially established in 1536 and was created to educate the ruling class of Aztecs for their eventual ordination into the priesthood. Sutro acquired this collection in 1889 when he purchased the Libreria Abadiano, the oldest bookstore and printing house in Mexico City.

Close-up photo of an illuminated manuscript.


Latin for “cradle,” “place of birth,” or “beginning,” incunabula are the first printed books in Europe and illustrate what was most valued in those societies in the mid-1400s to 1501. It is no surprise that many of these works are religious in nature. According to contemporary accounts, Adolph Sutro had over 4,000 incunabula in the world, with John Bonner of the San Francisco Call calling it “…probably the best collection in existence.” Tragically, all but approximately 67 volumes were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire. The specimens that survived consist of religious and theological works, music, natural history, grammar, and medicine.

Unprocessed Collections

Photo of a rectangular piece of paper with ornate brown script. The top edge is cut into a zig-zag pattern, and two strips of the same paper are attached to the bottom edge.

Halliwell-Phillips Collections

In July of 1889, Shakespeare scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips’ library was sold at auction, where Sutro purchased a portion that included 59 bound and unbound manuscripts dating from 1391 through 1831, as well as 16 monographs on Shakespeare. All of the materials Sutro acquired relate to Shakespeare’s life and times and include commentaries and critical analyses, as well as books on the history of performances. The manuscripts include official Royal documents such as leases, deeds, lists of estates, attorney letters, wills, and miscellaneous reports.