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Over the centuries the Library has built up impressive collections of rare books by purchase, bequest, gift and through the Copyright Act. A number of the larger collections have been kept together and named, including some which were once private collections (as in the case of the Royal Library, the Acton Library and Sandars) and some which were once in institutional ownership (Ely and Peterborough Cathedrals, Bury School Library and the Royal Commonwealth Society). Information on these named collections may be found below. The reference collection on the open shelves in the Rare Books Reading Room can be accessed by subject and by browsing the classification scheme

The image at the head of the page shows the catalogue room of the Library when housed in the Old Schools, before it moved to the current building in 1934. The volumes on the shelves are part of the Royal Library.

| A*-Qq* | Aaa-Kkk | Acton | Adams | Adversaria | Arc | Bassingbourn | Bensly | Bradshaw | Brett-Smith | Broadsides | Broughton | Broxbourne | Buckley | Bury | Bute | Cam | Cam Papers | CCA-CCE | Chapbooks | Dante | Darwin | De Laszlo | Dreyfus | Dutch works | Ely | Forster | Gibb | Hanson | Harley-Mason | Heym | Hib | Hisp | Historical Printing Room | Hunter | Huntingdon | Hutt | Incunabula | Keynes | Leigh | Madden | Marshall | Meynell | Moh (sel) | Montaigne | Morison | Munby | Norton | Oates | Official Publications | Path | Peterborough | Pryme | Rel | Rit | Ritschl | Rosenthal | Royal Commonwealth Society | Royal Library | Sandars | Sassoon | Sel | Sette of Odd Volumes | SPCK | SPR | Stars (A*-Qq*) | Syn | Toft | Venn | Verney | Waddleton | Wane | War of 1914-1919 | Webb | White | Williams |Yorke | Young | Yule

A*-Qq*

Contains many of the books in the Library before 1715. For further information on this collection, see the Stars and this Featured book piece.

Aaa-Kkk [10,000]

Pamphlets, 17th-19th century, all subjects; also small-format foreign books.

Acton [60,000]

The library of Lord Acton, Regius Professor of Modern History 1885-1902, presented to the Library in 1902 by Lord Morley. Very strong on European history (with much material on local history in France, Germany and Southern Italy) and church history (particularly the history of the Papacy). Books from 15th-19th century. For further information on this collection, see the Acton Library and this Featured book piece.

Adams [1500]

Bequeathed to the Library in 1892 by John Couch Adams. Its 1500 volumes include 1000 which date from before 1700, including 84 incunables. A general library, with emphasis on science, especially astronomy. 15th-19th century.

References and further reading: Catalogue of a collection of early printed and other works bequeathed to the Library by John Couch Adams. Cambridge, 1902.

Adversaria [1500]

The Library's main collection of printed books with manuscript annotations. See the Provenance section of Specialist departmental catalogues for further information.

Arc [1150]

A collection formed initially in the early 20th century from materials already held in the library. Books of an erotic or sexual nature which were believed to be potentially corrupting to students were moved into Arc, giving an interesting reflection of contemporary morals; they include a dictionary of slang, textbooks on female sexual health, and the first edition of Radclyffe Hall's The well of loneliness. The class is now used for books received under legal deposit which are considered to be unusually offensive (generally pictorial works), and for books which have been withdrawn by the publishers for various reasons (they include books which are the subject of legal proceedings, and scientific textbooks where misprints have led to unsafe information being published). Volumes in Arc are available for consultation in the Rare Books Reading Room, with the exception of books with the running number 400 and above (in the form Arc.a.95.401), used for those books withdrawn by their publishers which consequently may not be fetched.

References and further reading: Sims, Liam. "Scandalous and libellous books: the Arc Collection at Cambridge University Library" Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society XV/4 (2015), 625-645.

'Featured Book' piece on Restif de la Bretonne's l'Anti-Justine (1798)

Bassingbourn [410]

Part of the Parish Library of Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire. Duplicates of books already in the University Library were acquired by Essex University. 16th-19th century. For further information on this collection, see the Bassingbourn collection

Bensly [1500]

Hebrew and Arabic books from the library of R.L. Bensly, Professor of Arabic, 1887-1893, donated to the Library in 1894.

Bradshaw [14,000]

The Bradshaw collection, (classmark Hib.) consists of books printed in Ireland or on matters of Irish interest. Started in 1870, with a gift of several thousand volumes by Henry Bradshaw, University Librarian, the collection has been added to ever since, and is regarded as one of the best collections of Irish imprints outside the Republic of Ireland. For further information on the collections in this class, see the Bradshaw collection

Brett-Smith [1400]

There are about 1400 items in the Brett-Smith collection, which is a collection of English plays, dramatic literature, and poetical miscellanies 1640-1750, formed by John Brett-Smith and Henry Frederick Bradshaw. It includes first editions of all the plays of approximately 40 Restoration playwrights, including Steele, Howard and Woodward. This collection was purchased in 1984. For further information on this collection, see the Brett-Smith collection

Broadsides [700]

Includes part of the Library's collection of broadsides. Others are to be found in special collections, such as Hib and Madden. Post 1799 broadsides remain uncatalogued.

Broughton [650]

The Parish Library of Broughton, near Huntingdon, was purchased in 1958. A collection of 650 volumes from the 16th-18th centuries, its subject area is mainly theology.

Broxbourne [650]

The Broxbourne collection consists of about 650 books of type specimens and books of typographical interest from the 15th to the 20th century. The collection was presented by John Ehrman in 1978. For further information on this collection, see the Broxbourne collection

Buckley [350]

The Buckley collection consists of around 350 19th century books on central and southern Africa, collected by T.E. Buckley, and bequeathed to the University in 1903. This collection is on deposit from the Balfour Library, Museum of Zoology.

http://www.zoo.cam.ac.uk/library/index.htm

Bury [800]

The library of Bury St Edmunds Grammar School, deposited in 1970. Strong in classics, history and theology, 16th-18th century.

References and further reading: Bartholomew, A.T., & Gordon, C. On the library at King Edward VI. School, Bury St. Edmunds. The Library, 1910, 3rd ser., 1, pp. 1-27.

Bute

Part of the library of the Marquess of Bute, purchased in 1949. Octavo and duodecimo editions of Italian literature, especially drama. 16th-17th century.

Cam [10,000 +]

There are more than 10,000 items in this collection, but it is growing continuously. It contains Cambridge imprints and books about Cambridge, both town and University, from the 16th-20th century. For further information on this collection, see the Cam collection

Cam Papers [27,000 +]

Cam Papers comprises ephemeral items produced by the University and its societies from their inception to the present, as well as some items relating to the City of Cambridge. These include leaflets, posters, notices, programmes and newspaper cuttings. For further information on this collection, see the Cam Papers collection

CCA-CCE [9000]

Contains fifty-two miscellaneous small collections, including English authors printed abroad, Icelandic books, books on German National Socialism, author collections of Dante, Apuleius, Petronius, Hegel, Sterne, Bloomfield. For further information on the collections in this class, see Special Collections at CCA-CCE

Chapbooks (CCA-CCE.7) [3900]

This collection contains examples of early popular literature, of which around 2350 are chapbooks of the type sold by travelling hawkers rather than booksellers, and the remainder are children's literature and other cheap popular works. The majority are English, and date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection is based on the volumes bequeathed by J.W.L. Glaisher. For further information on this collection, see the Chapbooks and Juvenile Literature collection. See also this piece in the 'Featured Book' archive.

Dante (CCA-CCE.1) [80 +]

This collection has about 80 editions of the works of Dante, together with associated items, based on the bequest of Arthur John Butler, Trinity, 1910. For further information on this collection, see the Dante collection

Darwin [2500]

Those books, periodicals, and offprints from Charles Darwin's working library, including copies of his own works, which contain his annotations. 18th-19th century [NB this collection is held in the Manuscripts Department]. His unmarked books are at Down House in Kent.

References and further reading: Rutherford, H.W. Catalogue of the library of Charles Darwin now in the Botany School, Cambridge. Cambridge, 1908.

De Laszlo [2000]

Books on phytotherapy, bequeathed to the University by H.G. de Laszlo in 1968. 18th-20th century, all languages.

References and further reading: Library of medicinal plants collected by Henry G. de Laszlo. Cambridge, 1958.

Dreyfus (CCA-CCF 52) [1200]

Books on typography and fine printing from the collection of John Dreyfus (1918-2002). For further information on this collection, see the Dreyfus collection

Dutch works [12,500]

The Library's collections of Dutch language and Dutch-published early printing are spread across several classes. They are being added to the Short Title Catalogue of the Netherlands (STCN) and currenrly number over 8000 titles, of which 815 are unique. Further information is at the Dutch collections page.  

Ely [1500]

Part of the library of Ely Cathedral, transferred by the Dean and Chapter in 1970. The remainder of the library was sold at Sotheby's (March 9-10 1972). 15th-19th century, including a substantial number of Continental imprints.

References and further reading: Owen, D.M. The library and muniments of Ely Cathedral. Ely, 1973.

Forster [1300]

The collection of eighteenth century English verse formed by Harold Forster (d.1985); his Edward Young collection is in the Bodleian Library.

Gibb [400]

The Gibb collection consists of 400 Turkish books from the library of Elias John William Gibb, and was donated to the University Library by his widow in 1901, his collection of Turkish, Persian and Arabic manuscripts having been donated to the British Museum in 1889. On his death in 1901, his widow divided his remaining collection in two, presenting works on Turkey and the Near East written in a European language to the British Embassy at Constantinople, and books written in Turkish, Arabic and Persian to the Cambridge University Library. Though most branches of Turkish literature are represented, it is particularly rich in poetry and belles lettres, including the writings of the New School, which began to develop around 1859-1860.

References and further reading: 

  • Browne, E.G. A handlist ... of the Turkish and other printed ... books presented to the University Library. Cambridge, 1906. B143.4
  • Gibb, E.J.B. A history of Ottoman poetry, London 1900-1907. Moh.931.c.9-14

Hanson [700]

The Hanson collection formed part of the library of the Cruising Association, formed by H. J. Hanson, and was purchased in 1990. The collection contains books and atlases, British and foreign, on the history of ship-building and navigation. For further information on this collection, see the Hanson collection

Harley-Mason [325]

Aquatint books acquired in 1986, on a variety of subjects, particularly topography and travel, costume, art and architecture. For further information on this collection, see the Harley-Mason collection

Heym [700]

Numbering about 700 items, the printed section of the archive of the contemporary German author and political figure Stefan Heym, was acquired by the Library in 1993. It includes several editions and translations of his works, with other material relating to his life.

References and further reading:

Hib

See Bradshaw

Hisp [4000]

Spanish books, 16th-19th century. Includes the collection of Norman Maccoll, donated in 1905 by Mrs J.R. Jackson. Contains a major collection of comedias sueltas.

References and further reading:

  • Catalogue of the MacColl collection and other Spanish books. University Library Bulletin. Extra series. Cambridge, 1910. Cam.d.11.5.8.
  • Bainton, A.J.C. Comedias sueltas in Cambridge University Library: a descriptive catalogue. Cambridge, 1977. B150.743.9
  • Bainton, A.J.C. The Edward M. Wilson collection of comedias sueltas in Cambridge University Library. Kassel, 1987 (supplementary volume; books not in Hisp). 743:01.c.22.5; Cam.c.987.6.

Historical Printing Room

The Library has a considerable collection of printing artefacts. This began with a decision in the early 1970s to set up a bibliographical teaching press. Printing classes began in 1974, and have continued ever since. The presses and type are set up in a room off the readers’ Locker Room. For further information, see Historical Printing Room

Hunter [7000]

There are approximately 7000 items in the Hunter Collection, which is mainly concerned with works on the history of psychiatry and psychiatric treatment (including items on witchcraft and demonology). The material ranges from the 16th-20th century, and contains both English and foreign works. The collection was acquired in 1982 after the death of Richard Hunter, who formed the collection with his mother Ida Macalpine. For further information on this class, see Hunter collection

Huntingdon [850]

Books from the Huntingdon Archdeaconry Library, presented in 1970. Theology, 16th-19th century.

Hutt [95 boxes]

A collection of pamphlets, specimen copies of newspapers (including Russian material), typographical journals, correspondence and working papers from the library of (George) Allen Hutt (1901-1973). Hutt was a working journalist all his life, but was also interested in the history and design of newspapers, the history of journalism, trade-unionism, and the French typographer Pierre Fournier. All these fields are represented in the collection, of which only part has yet been catalogued. For unpublished material in the collection enquire in the Manuscripts Department.

Incunable Collection [4650]

There are more than 4650 Incunabula in Cambridge University Library. The shelfmark for the primary Incunable collection is Inc. but there are more to be found in other collections like Sandars and Keynes. These are now all searchable within the online catalogue as a result of a major Incunabula Cataloguing Project. Many of the Library's incunabula from this collection featured in the Private Lives of Print exhibition in 2015.

Keynes [8000]

Consisting of approximately 8000 items, the library of surgeon and bibliophile Sir Geoffrey Keynes was acquired in 1982. Books range from the 15th-20th century, and reflect a variety of disciplines, with a particular interest in early books relating to medicine and surgery, and also English literature. For further information on the collections in this class, see the Keynes collection

Leigh [8000]

A collection of approximately 8000 volumes purchased between 1982 and 1985 from the library of Ralph Alexander Leigh (1915-1987), Professor of French at Cambridge University and editor of the Correspondance complète de Rousseau (1965-1998). The collection concentrates on French literature, philosophy and history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with special emphasis on J.J. Rousseau, his circle and his critics. For further information on the collections in this class, see the Leigh collection

Madden [16,000]

18th-19th century broadside ballads, collected by Sir Frederic Madden and mounted in guard-books. The ballads may only be consulted on microfilm, unless there is a specific reason for consulting the originals. For more details on the contents of the collection, see the collection guide (hosted by Gale who microfilmed the original volumes). The contents can be browsed by title or searched by keyword, author, title or other criteria using the online guide and search function which will provide the reel number and location of the chosen ballad.

Marshall [200]

The Marshall collection contains about 200 books on economics, mainly English dating from between the 18th-19th century, on deposit from the Marshall Library, the library to the Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Cambridge.

The Marshall Library of Economics Web Page. http://www.marshall.econ.cam.ac.uk/

Meynell [260]

Part of the library of the typographer, publisher and poet Sir Francis Meynell (d. 1975), who founded the Nonesuch Press, which published (but did not print) one hundred and forty fine books. For further information on this collection, see the Meynell collection.

Moh

Books withdrawn from the open-shelf class Moh. The books withdrawn are largely accessions of books in Arabic, Persian and Turkish published in the West before 1850, or in the Middle East before 1900. Further collections in these and other Near Eastern languages are found in S810-S848 (early printing, including the collection of Ibrahim Müteferrika imprints) and 6/7810-6/7848 (17th and 18th century books). See also entries for Bensly and Gibb.

Montaigne [2120]

The Montaigne Library of Gilbert de Botton (1935–2000) came to Cambridge University Library in 2008. It includes ten volumes from Montaigne's own library, as well as copies of other books that he is known to have owned or read. The collection also contains a fine set of editions of Montaigne's work and secondary criticism. For further information on this collection, see the Montaigne Library

Morison [6000]

The library of Stanley Morison was bought by Sir Allen Lane on Morison's death in 1967 and donated to the University Library in 1968. Strong on typography and palaeography, it also includes books on liturgies and church history, and contains items mostly from the 19th to the 20th century. For further information on this collection, see the Morison collection

Munby [1800]

The Munby collection which numbers about 1800 volumes, was part of the working library of the bibliographer A.N.L. Munby, acquired in 1974. The collection includes around 1000 English auction catalogues, 108 booksellers' catalogues and some 60 proposals and specimens. Munby's collection includes items concerning western Europe and America, but he was mainly interested in English collecting. He also collected privately printed library catalogues, including the Catalogus Bibliothecae Kingstonianae, the earliest English printed catalogue of a private library, printed in 1726.

References and further reading: McKitterick, D.J. The Munby Collection in the University Library. Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 1975, pp. 205-10.

Norton [666]

The Norton collection contains 666 continental books printed between 1501 and 1520. These were collected by the bibliographer of Spanish and Portuguese books F.J. Norton (d.1986). For further information on this collection, see the Norton collection

Oates [600]

This collection has about 600 editions of the works of Laurence Sterne, together with imitations and other Sterneana, collected by John Claude Trewinard Oates (1912-1990). For further information on this collection, see the Oates collection

Official Publications

The Official Publications collection includes publications from the governments of the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic, members of the Commonwealth, and some of the foreign countries; and of more than fifty intergovernmental organisations including the United Nations and its specialist agencies, and the European Union. For further information on this collection, see the Official Publications collection

Path [1800]

Medical books, 16th-19th century, transferred from the Department of Pathology in 1969. Includes many books from the Hunterian Society of London and books formerly part of the old Cambridge Medical School Library.

The Hunterian Society of London. http://www.hunteriansociety.org.uk/

Peterborough [7200]

The Peterborough collection contains around 7,200 books printed before 1800 from the library of Peterborough Cathedral, and was deposited in Cambridge University Library in 1970. The library was mostly made up from the library of White Kennett, Bishop of Peterborough 1660-1728, many of whose manuscripts are now in the Landsdowne collection in the British Library. The library includes approximately 2,400 books printed in England before 1640. For further information on the collections in this class, see the Peterborough Cathedral Library

Pryme [2500]

The collection of Professor George Pryme, bequeathed to the University in 1868. Economics and political science; 18th- 19th century.

References and further reading: Bayne, Alicia (ed.) Autobiographic Recollections of George Pryme, Cambridge, 1870.

Rel [1300]

Books from all periods with fine or distinctive bindings.

Rit [450]

16th-20th century liturgical books printed in Britain and on the Continent, brought together in 1911 around a number of early texts bequeathed by Henry Bradshaw in 1886. It includes texts in Latin and European languages as well as early English primers, and is being added to continually in the form of the publications of the Henry Bradshaw Society. For further information on this class, see Rit

Ritschl

Nineteenth-century pamphlets, mainly German, on classical subjects; acquired in 1878.

Rosenthal [6000]

The private research library of Africana formed by the South African historian Eric Rosenthal, acquired in 1987. 18th- 20th century materials, chiefly English, Afrikaans, and German. Currently being catalogued for the Main Catalogue; please enquire in Rare Books Room.

Royal Commonwealth Society

The library of the Royal Commonwealth Society, which came to the University Library in 1993. It contains books, periodicals and photographs relating to the British Empire and Commonwealth covering many subjects. For further information on this collection, see the Royal Commonwealth Society

The Royal Library [30,000]

Originally the private collection of John Moore (1646-1714), Bishop of Ely and one of the greatest book-collectors of his day. Shortly after Moore's death King George I was persuaded to buy his library and present it to Cambridge University; it has ever since been called the Royal Library, in honour of the donor. For further information on this collection, see the Royal Library

Sandars [1460]

The library of Samuel Sandars (classmark 'SSS'), bequeathed to the Library in 1894, complemented previous donations made during his lifetime. Liturgies, early English printing, books on vellum, fine bindings, 109 incunabula; 15th-19th century. See this piece in the 'Featured Book' archive.

Sassoon (CCC.39) [114]

A collection of 114 volumes from the library of the poet and writer Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967). For further information on this collection, see the Sassoon collection

Sel [3,500]

Instituted by Henry Bradshaw for books of exceptional rarity published after 1500. The class includes the Verney collection of 14,000 pamphlets and broadsides centred around the Popish Plot. See also this piece in the 'Featured Book' archive.

Sette of Odd Volumes

The library and archives of this book collectors' club, formed in 1878, were deposited here in the 1990s. The library includes copies of their publications, plus two special collections of books on tobacco and parody. The collection is uncatalogued, but a shelf-list of the printed books is available at the Munby Rare Books Room desk. A PDF scan of the catalogue is also available online here (15MB file). The archive of the Sette is held in the Manuscripts Department.

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

The archive & library of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) were presented to Cambridge University Library on the occasion of the Society's 300th anniversary in 1998. For further information on this collection, see SPCK collection

The Society for Psychical Research [3000]

The library and archives of the Society for Psychical Research (classmark SPR) numbers at about 3000 volumes, and was deposited in Cambridge in 1989. The subjects covered include the occult sciences, psychic phenomena and hypnotism, and they range from 16th-20th century. The printed books can be ordered in the Rare Books room and SPR archives are housed in the Manuscripts department. Society for Psychical Research Home Page. http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/

Syn [12,000]

English publications pre-1700 and post-1900, but containing also a collection of eighteenth century unbound pamphlets and some early European printing. The class was instituted by Henry Bradshaw for books which might be borrowed only with the permission of the Library Syndicate.

Toft [500]

A selection of British and continental publications on genealogy and heraldry, covering the 16th to 20th centuries. They were acquired in 1974 from the collection of Gavin Macfarlane-Grieve who lived at Toft Manor near Cambridge. The books include numerous armorial bookplates of previous owners which are themselves of considerable interest. For further information on this collection, see the Toft collection

Venn [1100]

Books on logic, donated in 1888 by the logician John Venn (1834-1923). It covers the 16th-19th century, and various languages are represented. For further information on this collection, see the Venn collection

Verney [1400]

English political and literary pamphlets and broadsides, published 1660-1695 and centering on the Popish Plot. Collected and annotated by the Verney family of Claydon, Bucks. Thirteen bound volumes containing 1400 pamphlets, placed at Sel.2.114-126. For further information on this collection, see the Verney collection

Waddleton [5200]

Books with colour-printed illustration formed by Norman Waddleton (1919–2008), acquired 1985. For further information on this collection, see the Waddleton collection

Wane [550]

Ornithological books from the library of Rev. F.I. Wane, 18th-20th century, on deposit from Clare College since 1971.

War of 1914-1919 [10,000]

An extensive collection of books, periodicals, pamphlets and ephemera relating to the 1914-1919 war (classmark WRA-WRE), particularly notable for fugitive material. Largely the result of efforts made by the University Librarian Francis Jenkinson. Much of the collection has now been microfilmed. For further information on this collection, see the War of 1914-1919

Webb [ongoing]

A large collection of chiefly locally published material, consisting of school magazines, church guides, student rag mags and almanacs, given from 2013 by Cliff Webb (b. 1948), insurance broker and genealogist. Still (2016) being added to and processed. See his entry Collecting for the University Library on the Special Collections Blog

White [1350]

The collection of F.P. White, former librarian of St. Johns College, acquired between 1962 and 1964. The subjects cover mathematics, physics and optics, and range from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, most dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Williams [700 +]

Books primarily by and about Jonathan Swift, bequeathed in 1964 by the Swift scholar Sir Harold Williams. For further information on this collection, see the Williams collection

Yorke [1100]

Around 1100 volumes from the library of James Yorke, Bishop of Ely (d.1808), deposited in 1952. The books cover mainly classics, history and theology, with a notable number of Continental items, mainly French. The great majority are 18th century publications, and include around 450 pamphlet sermons and theological tracts. For further information on this collection, see the Yorke collection

Young [350]

Donated in 1933-36 by A.W. Young of Trinity College (1852- 1936), the collection numbers almost 350 volumes. It comprises mainly bibles in 40 languages, including many early English printed bibles, early liturgies and English chronicles dating from the 16th to the 18th century. Young also gave 27 incunabula including a 42-line Bible, which have been placed in class Inc. For further information on this collection, see the Young collection

Yule [1500]

Books on agriculture, from a collection started by the statistician George Udny Yule (1871-1951); on permanent loan from the Dept of Applied Biology.