The Cardiff Rare Books Collection
About the collection: overview and highlights
The international significance of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection lies in its inclusion of a number of extremely rare and some unique items. Among its strengths are 175 incunabula (early printed books before 1500); a cross-section of Early Modern works that encapsulate the Renaissance and Reformation; around 500 Bibles; a world-class collection of Restoration drama, including rare Shakespearian material; significant holdings on natural history, topography and travel; and an extraordinary set of books from British private presses operating in the 19th and 20th centuries. Of the 14,000 items, initial surveys estimate that approximately one third of the collection can be classed as literary works. Another major feature of the collection is the rich strain of illustrated material that runs through the entire collection.
Many items in the collection are almost certainly not held in any other library collection in the world, and further books are only held in one other library. But the real value lies in the groupings of works: for example, a major set of 17th-century editions of Shakespeare is extremely rare, and the Restoration drama collection appears to be unique in its comprehensiveness. In addition to its Anglophone publications, the collection contains books in other European languages by Continental authors, with its incunable material representing outputs from the major centres of the early printed book (including Venice, Lyon and Nuremburg).
Although we are only beginning to uncover the sheer plenitude of research value that such a corpus will unlock for future generations of scholars, the following list represents highlights of the Cardiff Rare Books collection:
- Over 500 years of rare and esoteric material, ranging from A Trojan History (1472) to DanielS Jubb’s flipbook of photographs, Bookcase (1994).
- A large body of works by major and minor literary figures of the 16th to early 18th centuries, with a particularly focus on Restoration drama: Cibber (28 vols), Congreve (16), Cowley (26), Dryden (128), Lee (44), Milton (51), Ottway (34), Shadwel (32), Shakespeare (236).
- Substantive materials from other periods: Chaucer (19 vols), Cowley (26), Defoe (19), Goldsmith (20), Smollett (38), Sterne (15), Swift (31), Yeats (31).
- A sizable collection of works from other cultures, in both their native language and translation: Boccaccio (81 vols), Dante (23), Homer (45), Horace (26), Ovid (38), Virgil (62).
- Works by key Western European theologians and mystics, including Aquinas, Calvin, Luther Tindale and Zwingli; as well as more esoteric volumes by Cornelius Agrippa, Apianus and Glanvil.
- A variety of other works in smaller numbers but bearing significant cultural freight, among them: early collections of Newton, Swift, Johnson and Boswell; originals and translations of Lope da Vega, Cervantes, Descartes and Voltaire; Bibles in numerous languages; sermons; political pamphlets; novels; poetry; specialist works on medicine, botany, topography and travel, to illustrated private presses including 38 volumes from William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.
The full scope of the collection will become clearer as cataloguing continues, and Information Services staff are currently processing and prioritising works for conservation, online cataloguing and selective digitisation in a three-year programme, which has already won an Esmee Fairbairn external grant of over £90,000 to begin the cataloguing, and another £25,000 from the Colwinston Trust for conservation work.