History of books, printing and publishing

Crescentius_for_webOne of our most important collections is the Archive of British Publishing and Printing, which has been recognised as being a pre-eminent collection of national and international significance.

We hold many collections relating to the British book industry and the wider history of books, printing and publishing which form a valuable resource for the study of all aspects of book production and printing:

Early printed books

  • Incunables, or early printed books, including our oldest printed book, a 1471 German printing of Ruralia commoda by Petrus de Crescentius.
  • Examples of early printed leaves, including a leaf from Sarum Ordinale of 1476/77, one of the first books printed by William Caxton, in the John and Griselda Lewis Collection, together with numerous examples of sixteenth and seventeenth century printers devices and engraved title-pages.
  • Examples of printing from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including work by Aldus Manutius, Nicolas Jenson and Christopher Plantin are to be found in our Printing Collection and in many of our other rare book collections.

Private presses and fine printingFirst page of Coleridge's 'Christabel, Kubla Khan, Fancy in nubibus, and Song from Zapolya', printed by Eragny Press

  • Private press books from the eighteenth century to the present day, with good specimens of the Strawberry Hill, Kelmscott, Eragny and Golden Cockerel presses.
  • Fine printing from the seventeenth century onwards, including examples of work by master printers including John Baskerville, Bodoni, Barbou, the Elsevirs, Foulis and Edmund Evans.

Individual collections including:

Illustrated booksIllustration from ‘The Grammar of Ornament’ (1856)

We hold a great number of fine illustrated books throughout our collections, including examples of the following:

  • early colour printing and chromolithography, including publications by Rudolph Ackermann, David Roberts's The Holy Land (1842-9) and several publications by the artist and designer Owen Jones, including The Grammar of Ornament.
  • Examples of book illustration from the sixteenth century to the present day, by illustrators including Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, Edward Bawden, Charles Mozley and many others.
  • We are particularly strong in book illustration from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, especially by artists involved in the revival of wood engraving in this period, including Robert Gibbings, Eric Gill and Clare Leighton.
  • We also hold a small collection of nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock printed pattern books in the Printing Collection

Illustrated book series

Book jacket designMills & Boon book cover

We hold numerous examples of book jacket design in our collections, including specimens of original artwork:

Book provenance and marks of ownershipBookplate for Christie Chetwynd Atkinson

Our collections provide a wealth of material to support research into book ownership and provenance, and book collecting, including many examples of the following:

  • Ownership inscriptions
  • Armorial and other fine bindings
  • Annotations and marginalia
  • Bookplates

Some examples of these features appeared in our exhibition: Ex libris: marks of ownership in rare books

Search our Enterprise catalogue, for examples of these using these terms to perform keyword searches and then use the left-hand menu filters to refine your search results.

We hold duplicate or multiple copies of some rare book titles together with different editions of texts, enabling researchers to compare variety between copies and editions.

Our detailed rare books catalogue records enable book trade researchers to search for examples of books by specific publishers, printers, booksellers, engravers and illustrators.

Twentieth century book and type design

Music publishingSpellman cover

Ephemera and trade literature

Packaging design and other printingH and P christmas biscuits

Reference books and periodicals

  • The Mark Longman Library of books relating to book history, illustration, libraries, publishing and the book trade.

We also hold a small general reference collection of publications relating to book and publishing history.

  • Periodicals including The Bookseller, Publisher's Weekly and other periodicals relating to publishing and fine printing, including Penrose's Annual and Matrix.

Collections of nineteenth-century publishers catalogues:

Other University collections

Our holdings complement the collections relating to the history of lettering, printing and graphic design held at the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication



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