Our collections, which include rare books, archives and manuscripts, are substantial and varied, particularly for a University of this age and size. The majority result from donations: the tradition of acquiring special material is as old as the University, the bequest of the Overstone Library in 1920 setting a pattern. The collecting of manuscripts and archives began in a systematic way in the 1960s, and from the start has been dominated by the programme to collect and manage British publishers’ archives. The University's collections also include artwork, including Pandora by J.D. Batten (on display at Special Collections).

Two of our collections have been recognised as being pre-eminent collections of national and international significance - the Beckett Collection and the combined records of British publishing and printing - and have been awarded MLA Designated Status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

Highlights of the collections

Book of Hours

Detail from the Book of Hours, part of the Special CollectionsBooks of Hours were prayer books of private devotion for lay members of the Church.

This beautifully illuminated example was produced for Paris use, possibly by a follower of the Bedford Master, at the Pedrizet school near Paris, between 1415 and 1435. The manuscript was donated to the Library in 1981 by Dr Nellie Eales, a former Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University. For more information, see our featured item for December 2005.

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1543

skelet1This Renaissance book of human anatomy was drawn from actual dissections of the  human body, which was unusual and controversial for the time. The artistic representation of the human body also set a new standard for books of anatomy thereafter.

The book, together with a copy of the second edition of 1555, is one of the highlights of books on early medicine and zoology from the Cole Library.


Beckett Collection

The Beckett Collection is the world's largest collection of resources relating to Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), and includes manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks, correspondence, stage files, books and other archival materials.

The collection originated in the Samuel Beckett Exhibition held in the University Library in 1971, which contained material donated by Beckett himself and by many friends and admirers from the worlds of literature and theatre. The collection grew rapidly, in large part through the patronage and generosity of Beckett, who continued to donate material until his death in 1989. Material is constantly being added, both by donation and by purchase. Crescentius_for_web

Petrus de Crescentius, Ruralia commoda, 1471

This book is the oldest printed book in the rare book collections, and one of twelve incunables in the collections.  It was printed in Augsburg in Germany by Johann Schussler.

It is an early agricultural manual, and is said by some to have been the most important original medieval work on agriculture, husbandry and horticulture.

The book has an original binding, and a number of illuminated initials. For more information, see our featured item for April 2005.

Stenton Coin Collection

edward III nobleThe coin collection was the creation of Sir Frank Merry Stenton (1880-1967), Professor of Modern History from 1912 to 1946 and Vice Chancellor of the University from 1946 to 1950.

The coins in the collection date from as early as the reign of King Offa of Mercia (AD. 757-96), with a substantial number of Anglo-Saxon and Norman coins.

The image shows an Edward III noble from the collection.

Thomas Hardy, We Field-Women manuscript

This holograph manuscript was given to the University Library in 1974 by Joy Finzi, the widow of the composer Gerald Finzi, and is held in the Papers of Gerald and Joy Finzi. We Field-Women poem

Although not one of his most famous verses, the poem is nevertheless highly characteristic of Hardy’s ‘Wessex’ style, and is closely related to his famous novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), with which it shares subject matter.

The Reading manuscript is also of some textual interest as it includes a few variants in the poet’s hand.

The provenance of this manuscript is also of note as Gerald Finzi composed song settings which include fifty-two poems by Hardy (many more than by any other poet), and show particular insight into Hardy’s art. For more information, see our featured item for May 2008.

Page navigation

See also

  • Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) collections 


Search Form

A-Z lists