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Cardiff Rare Books collection (15th-20th C.)


The Cardiff Rare Books Collection is an exceptionally rich and varied collection of over 14,000 books ranging from 15th century incunabula to 20th century fine press books.

Cardiff Rare Books

Because of its aspirations to become home to a national library for Wales, from the late 19th century onward Cardiff City Council built up a remarkable collection of books at its Central Library. The Cardiff Rare Books Collection represents the core of the English and Continental rare books in that collection. It was acquired by Cardiff University from Cardiff City Council in 2010, with the support of the Welsh Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, who (like Cardiff University and Cardiff City Council) recognised its significance as a national collection and the need to preserve it and to promote its use by scholars and the general public.

Among its strengths are 180 incunabula; early modern English and Continental works from the Renaissance and Reformation; around 500 Bibles; a world-class collection of Restoration drama, including a major set of late 17th-century editions of Shakespeare which is extremely rare; a notable atlases collection; significant holdings on natural history, topography and travel; and a collection of international significance of books from British private presses operating in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as limited editions and fine bindings. A rich strand of illustrated material runs through the entire collection.

Werner Rolewinck, Fasciculus Temporum, 1474

Date range: 15th-20th centuries.

Significance: Of international significance.

Strengths: Restoration drama, British private presses, incunabula.

Size: c. 14,000 items.

Languages: English, Latin, Italian, French, German, etc.

Keywords: Literature, history, theology, English printing, continental printing, incunabula

Notes: The collection is currently being catalogued and made accessible via LibrarySearch. There is a good amount of detail of provenance information running throughout the collection, (including owners such as John Dee and Isaac Newton), plus much marginalia of historical significance - all of which is recorded in the catalogue records. 

Items from the collection feature regularly on the blog of the Library’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR). Aspects of the collection are regularly showcased in the Cardiff Rare Books and Music Lecture Series, and digital selections from exhibitions are hosted at SCOLAR’s Exhibition Images Online.

There are plans to digitise key texts in the collection. Ten works, ranging from the 14th to the 20th century, have already been digitally scanned and have been placed on ‘Turning The Pages’ digital 3D books display touch screen, which is housed in the University Library, but which is also available for loan for use in exhibitions elsewhere by other organisations.

For further information regarding the collection, and for the loan of the ‘Turning The Pages’ portable touch screens, contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives, Mr Peter Keelan (; ++44 (0)29-2087-5678).