Shelf Lives

Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books

The Bradshaw Collection

Henry Bradshaw (1831–1886) became University Librarian at Cambridge in 1867, and under his charge the Library greatly expanded its holdings of early printed books. Bradshaw collected in this field himself, often passing his purchases to the Library, but his largest donation came in 1870, when he gave the library of Irish books started by his father, who was born in County Down. Bradshaw continued to buy Irish books for the remainder of his life, and a second collection reached the library on his death.


A copy of the charter of the Royal Hospital of King Charles II at Kilmainham, Dublin, printed by G. Faulkner in 1760, in a red morocco presentation binding featuring the arms of the Hospital. Hib.8.760.1.

The Acton Library

The Liberal historian Lord Acton (1834–1902) was Regius Professor of Modern History in Cambridge. His collection of some sixty thousand books, many of them published on the Continent, is a superlative resource for the study of early-modern European political and ecclesiastical history. Purchased during Acton’s lifetime by the philanthropic steelmaker Andrew Carnegie, who allowed the historian to keep possession of them, the books passed in 1902 to John Morley, who presented them to the University Library.

acton library

An engraving of seals found on documents in Melk Abbey, Austria, from Philibert Hueber, Austria ex archivis Mellicensibus illustrata, Leipzig, 1722. Acton.a.34.229.


The Harker Collection

‘There is, unless I am singular in my tastes, a wonderful fascination in poring over old maps’. So wrote Alfred Harker (1859–1939), university lecturer and reader in petrology with close ties to St John’s College, adding that ‘it has been one of my hobbies to collect old maps of Scotland’. This collection of 170 maps is now in Cambridge University Library. The earliest item was published in 1573 and the most recent in 1884. The collection contains many rare items and includes European as well as British publications.

harker collection

Scotia, Regnum, per Gerardum Mercatorem, Duisberg, c. 1595, Gerard Mercator’s first map of Scotland on its own, published unchanged in numerous editions of his atlas up to 1635. Maps.Harker.2.

The Waddleton Collection

Norman Waddleton (1916–2008) began collecting in the 1960s while working as a patent attorney in London. He specialised in books with colour-printed illustrations, initially up to 1893 when modern methods of colour printing became common. The earlier forms of illustration were mainly wood-cuts, wood-engravings, intaglio prints and chromolithographs. His collection was extremely diverse, ranging from children’s books to commercial catalogues, in many languages. He published several volumes of the Waddleton Chronology, including much information about printers not usually found in library catalogues.

acton library

Diagram of a lunar eclipse, an early example of colour printing using three wood-blocks. From Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Sphaera Mundi (Venice, 1488). Waddleton.d.2.1