Common Searches

Special Collections Directory

Established in 1846 by civic leaders and philanthropists, the Mercantile exists today as a vibrant community, cultural asset. It is the oldest library west of the Mississippi and the grandparent of all cultural institutions in St. Louis

Collecting Mission: The task of the Mercantile Library as a research library is to make its collections, which have come to concentrate on Western Expansion and the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences, available to the widest number of local and national users.

Scope of Collections: The Mercantile Library possesses broad primary and secondary research collections of material related to various American studies subjects. Some subjects-particularly Western Americana, have been collected in extensive depth. The collection also contains broadly developed subjects related to the general humanities-especially history, world travel, and exploration-the social sciences, and the history of the natural sciences and the history of technology

Synopsis:The collections may be grouped into six major divisions:

  • The General (Core) Collection, containing 210,000 books on the subjects outlined above;The Barriger Collection, focusing on American Railroad history and currently distinguished as one of the largest in the United States, containing 40,000 books plus primary manuscript documents and photographs.The Pott Waterways Collection, which focuses on United States river and inland waterways history, containing 2,500 books and a large pictorial/photographic collection which doubles the overall item count. Periodicals and current newspapers, with a current list of subscriptions numbering 75 popular and scholarly magazines and journals.

  • Reference collections, containing approximately 2,000 "ready reference" volumes of general, local and historical materials, which is supported

  • by the Core general collections outlined above, access to numerous on-line bibliographic resources and microfilmed materials.

  • Special library collections include various research collections including original manuscript sources, the archives of the Mercantile Library, the clipping and photo files (morgue) of the St. Louis Globe Democrat, historical newspapers, and rare book and art collections.


  • Rare Books

  • Early Prints and Photographs

  • Precious Manuscripts and Archival Documents

  • Paintings and Sculptures

  • Scarce Historical Newspapers

  • Engravings and Original Drawings

  • Oral History Tapes and Motion Pictures

  • Maps

Collections Highlights:

  • Americana-travel narratives, early atlases, exploration, transportation history, the sweep of Manifest Destiny and expansion, the fur trade and St. Louis History and biography.General American Studies-cultural social history, slavery and abolition, natural history.

  • Native American history-archaeology, captivity narratives and illustrations of the tribes.

Typical Patrons of the Collection: Historians, academic scholars in humanistic disciplines; marketing and public relations firms; film producers and photographs; exhibits specialists; news media; textbook publishers; waterways industry; museum staff; attorney's development personnel; government and law enforcement agencies; railroad industry; librarians; genealogists; secondary school students; college students; educators; authors; accountants.



Needs of the Collection:
  • Book funds for collection development.Preservation and Conservation of rare and fragile materials. Equipment and facility enhancement to assure continued growth.

  • Automation of the Library's catalogue for intellectual access.

John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library
The Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library