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The Rare Books Department houses several collections with unique Hispanic material. The most representative are noted below.


A collection of material either published in or relating to Spain and Portugal. The collection originated with a donation in 1905 from Mrs J.R. Jackson, as legatee under the will of her cousin Norman Maccoll, editor of The Athenaeum from 1871 to 1900, who had expressed the wish that his Spanish books should go to the University. Additional material was added until the mid 1920s. There are approximately 1828 items, of which 76 were published in the 16th century, 176 in the 17th, 746 in the 18th, 742 in the 19th and 88 in the 20th.

Amongst the 17th century imprints Madrid clearly predominates with 76 volumes. Next is Barcelona, with only 10 items. Burgos, Pamplona and Ruanes each appear for the first time, with one title each. The collection contains virtually nothing from Latin America, although there are items from Mexico published in 1769 and 1775. Portuguese imprints are also poorly represented: the earliest is a Lisbon item dated 1589, and there are six Portuguese imprints from the 17th century.The emphasis of the collection is literary, including a major collection of comedias sueltas, and historical. English, French, German and Italian imprints all feature in the collection, but the majority were published in Spain. Included amongst the 16th century material are examples of imprints from sixteen Spanish regional presses, and there are also several items published in the Low Countries during the second half of the century.

For further information on the collection, see Hisp.

Comedias sueltas

Comedias sueltas are the separate editions of single plays which were produced by Spanish printers in large numbers until well into the nineteenth century. Their popularity is evinced by the great variety of different editions which survive. Despite the often poor quality of the printing, the sueltas are of interest for the indication they give of a public demand for particular plays.

The University Library's collection of sueltas is large - there are almost one thousand two hundred different editions - and contains some early items which may be, or have been shown to be, the first edition of the play.

The collection was assembled as the result of several bequests, and is divided amongst several library classes. The 1905 donation of sueltas from Mrs J.R. Jackson stands at Hisp.5.76.1-32. In 1933 a second set of volumes was presented by Frederick Alexander Kirkpatrick, Reader in Spanish, and stands at 7743.c.1-36. The collection was subsequently augmented by the collection of Edward M. Wilson, Professor of Spanish at Cambridge from 1953 until 1973. His collection was absorbed into the general rare book collections (7743 and F3-figures).

Bainton, A.J.C. Comedias sueltas in Cambridge University Library: a descriptive catalogue. Cambridge, 1977. (Classmark: B150.743.9)
Bainton, A.J.C. The Edward M. Wilson collection of comedias sueltas in Cambridge University Library: a descriptive catalogue. Kassel, 1987. (Classmark: 743:01.c.22.5)

Pliegos sueltos

The University Library holds a small but important collection of pliegos sueltos (chapbooks) mainly dating from the 1800s. They mostly consist of poems, ballads, religious tracts and relaciones de sucesos. Of particular significance are the relaciones de sucesos, a historical-literary genre, frequently sensationalist, that narrates festive and historical events with the aim of informing, entertaining and moving the public. A good number of these deal with wrongdoing (crime, unacceptable behaviour, moral wrongs and attacks on reputation are some examples).

For further information see The Chapbooks and Juvenile Literature collection.

Auques and aleluyas

The University Library houses a fine collection of 197 Aleluyas. This type of popular literature, commonly known as Auca/Auques in Catalan and Aleluyas in Castilian, was aimed at instructing children and illiterate adults by narrating a short story or biography on a single sheet of paper. Dating back to the XVIII and XIX centuries, these prints traditionally consist of a sequence of 48 vignettes accompanied by a verse or a phrase at the foot of the illustrations. Aleluyas originated in the Catalan-speaking regions of Catalunya and Valencia but soon spread all over Spain, with Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia becoming the main production centres.

The Norton collection

The Norton collection, formerly the private library of Frederick John Norton (1904-1986), contains a number of works printed in Spain and Portugal between 1501 and 1520.

Find out more about the Norton collection.

The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Library

The RCS Library contains significant holdings on Britain’s former Caribbean colonies West Indies and British Guiana.

The collection comprises official/government reports, yearbooks and directories, guidebooks, bibliographies, monographs, periodicals and pamphlets, poetry and fiction, memoirs and correspondence, scrapbooks and press cuttings, and some photograph albums.

Find out more about the West Indian collections of the RCS Library.

The Waddleton collection

The beautifully illustrated Waddleton Collection contains a small selection of items that may interest to researchers of colour-printed books from Spain and Latin America.

Find out more about the Waddleton collection.