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The majority of the books in A*-U* and Aa*-Qq* are ones which were in the Library before 1715, when the library of John Moore, Bishop of Ely (the Royal Library) was given to Cambridge University. (Confusingly however, classes Aa* & Bb*, mainly pamphlet volumes, are Royal Library classes. These classes contain many books from important early benefactors, such as the 17th-century bequests of Richard Holdsworth (1664), Henry Lucas (1664) and John Hacket (1670) and purchases from the Rustat Fund (established in 1666). The 'stars' also contain many hundreds of books which came by the workings of the Licensing Acts of 1662-1679 and 1685-1695 and the Copyright Act of 1709 which established and confirmed this Library as a library of copyright deposit. It has been calculated that of the titles registered at Stationers' Hall between 1760 and 1810, the Library possesses in original copies of deposit no more than one-sixth.

The process of classifying the Library in the early 18th century meant that Moore's library used the same classmarks as the pre-Royal books in the Library. The books in the Royal Library could be identified only by their bookplates (engraved by John Pine). The classes were therefore distinguished by adding an asterisk to the existing Library classes (A*-Qq*), and thousands of paper asterisks were printed up by the University Press and pasted onto the spine of each non-Royal book; as a result these classes, plus the Royal Library classes Aa* & Bb*, have become known to Library staff as 'the stars'. Many of the original printed asterisks can still be seen on the spines of books in this class, although now discoloured by age and dressings.

Many of the books originally in the 'star' classes, such as incunabula, were moved to other classes in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but a strong core of material remains at the original classmarks.


References and further reading

  • J.C.T. Oates & D. McKitterick Cambridge University Library: a history (Cambridge, 1986) 9851.c.277.26-27 and B926.2-3