Our Rare Books collections

The King (detail) from George Naylor's The Coronation of… George IV (1830)

Our Rare Books collection houses some 45,000 items, mostly published before 1851, comprising a number of donated collections and individual gifts, in addition to books purchased by the Library itself.  A special membership is needed to view the books, but this remains free to the public and there are regular talks and tours. The books are kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. We’ll be highlighting some of the more interesting items on this blog in the coming months, but in the meantime here’s an overview of the collections. You can search for specific books using the library catalogue.


Epiphany (detail) from Missale secundum usum Carthusianum (14th Century)

Leonard Lionel Bloomfield’s collection of 13,500 books was donated to the Library by his widow in 1917.  Bloomfield collected rare and fine works, including some illuminated manuscripts, incunabula and early printed books.  Among the manuscripts are a 14th century missal, Flora Lewensis, by Thomas Woolgar and a sketchbook attributed to JMW Turner.

The incunabula include a copy of the Nuremburg chronicle (1493), Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon (1482) and Incipit exposicion symboli gloriosi Jeronimi (1470). Among the printed books are a number which throw light on the domestic life of the wealthier classes,including The ladies cabinet opened (1639), containing recipes and household hints, Henry Peacham The gentleman’s exercise (1612), a handbook for amateur artists,

Canape Louis XIV, from Quetin, Victor: Le Magsin des meubles (1852)

and Hannah Glasse The art of cookery made plain and easy.  Books of architectural interest include four 16th century editions of Vitruvius, three volumes of Piranesi’s engravings, Sir William Chambers’ Plans … of the gardens at Kew (1763), some volumes of the Society of Dilettanti, and a number of pattern books from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  There are also a number of works on interior design and furniture design, such as Percier and Fontaine Recueil de décorations intérieures (1812) and Quétin’s Le magasin des meubles (1852).

Shakespeare, William, Comedies, Histories and tragedies, 2nd edition (1632)

Literary works in the Bloomfield Collection include include early printed editions of the works of Latin, Greek, Italian and English writers, notably an edition of Il Decamerone (Vencie, 1548) with the bookplate of David Garrick and a copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.

Over 1000 of Bloomfield’s books, which are of the Regency period and have fine bindings, are on display in the King’s Library of the Royal Pavilion.  In 1913 Bloomfield bought a substantial part of the personal library of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which is also included in the collection.




Beginning of the first canto of Dante Alighiere Lo Inferno e'l purgatorio e'l paradiso (1515)

Count Antonio Clericetti bequeathed 570 books and £500 to the Library in 1888.  The books are for the most part editions and translations of Italian literary works, many being examples of early Italian printing and binding, such as Boccaccio’s Incomincia il libro di madonna fiammetta da lei alle innamorale mandato (1481), printed in Venice by Philippo di Pietro and the Aldine Press Divine Comedy(1515). 


Richard Cobden, MP, founder of the Anti-Corn Law League and later President of the Board of Trade, was a long-term resident of Sussex and after his death part of his extensive library was presented to Brighton Library by Henry Willet.  This consists of some 3000 pamphlets and 100 books, mostly from the mid-19th century, on agriculture, commerce, economics, history, philosophy and political economy, in both English and French.


Initial from Missale secundum ordinem Cathusiensium (1509)

The daughters of the Revd Henry Venn Elliott, vicar of St Mary’s Brighton, gave his collection to the newly-created Brighton Refrence Library in 1865.  It contains 3000 books, mainly theological works from the late 18th and early 19thcenturies, including Elliotts’ own sermons and memoirs.  There are a number of earlier works in the collection, notably an edition of Seneca’s tragedies, printed at Venice in 1492 and a Carthusian Missal of 1509.  


Daniel Hack JP donated over 1200 books to the Library in 1883, including Foxe’s Book of martyrs and Vasari’s Lives of the painters.


James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips FRS was librarian of Jesus College Cambridge, biographer and Shakespearean scholar.  In 1876 he presented to the Library over 1000 volumes by and about Shakespeare.  These include facsimiles of the first editions of the First Folio edition of the plays and of Venus and Adonis (1593), The Rape of Lucrece (1594) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602).


James George Lewis left a collection of 2000 books on literature and the fine arts, mainly in French, German and Italian, in 1921.  After the death of his widow in 1928 a sum of money allowed the Library to add to this collection, which includes catalogues of provincial galleries and exhibition catalogues as well as monographs and catalogues raisonnés.



Plato's Platonis gnomologia graecolatina Genevae (1613)

George Long, a former classics master at Brighton College, gave his library of 3500 volumes to Brighton Library in 1878, along with his manuscript lecture notes.  It includes 16th century Greek and Latin texts, such as the 1595 Frankfurt edition of Herodotus, Aristotle’s Logic published in the same city in 1597 and a 1613 edition of Plato, printed in Geneva and bound for a cardinal of the Barbaçon family. 


Henry John Matthews, formerly a Sanskrit and Hebrew scholar at Oxford, was Chariman of the Library Sub-committee 1888-1905, during which time he gave to the Library some 2000 books, and at his death bequeathed his collection of Hebrew and Oriental literature, some 4000 books.  This includes works in Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic and other middle-eastern languages, dating from the 15th to the 19th century.  This collection was described by a prominent member of the Brighton Jewish community as the finest collection he knew outside ofIsrael


Cornelius Paine gave many hundreds of books to the Library from 1875-1890.  In addition to books, he gave many local newspapers such as the Sussex Weekly Advertiser and other periodicals such as a set of the Edinburgh Review.



'How many boys are sitting at the table?' from Bohny, Nicholas The new picture book (1868)

Early children’s books have been donated to and purchased by Hove Library.  Dating mainly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, they include a wide range of literature, fairy tales, biblical stories, fantasies and schoolbooks.  A printed catalogue is available in the Library.  


Narcissus, watercolour inserted in Henry Phillips' Flora historica (1824)

In addition to these special collections, the Rare Books include many other works purchased by or donated to the Library.  Topography and travel are well represented, from Dumont’s Voyage to the Levant (1705) to Martin Courcy The Alps (1904); 19th century works include John Crawford’s Journal of an embassy … to the courts of Siam and Cochin China (1828), Bishop Heber’s Narrative of a journey through the Upper Provinces of India (1828), Sir Robert Kerr Porter’s Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia, &c (1821) and Carl Bock The head-hunters of Borneo (1881).

There are some 4500 works on all aspects of natural history, including Georgius Reisch Margarita philosophica nova (1508) and a manuscript of 200 coloured illustrations of plants dated 1547.  19th century works include the 36 volumes of Sowerby’s English botany, the Floricultural cabinet and Paxton’s Flower garden

Arms of Jean-Baptiste Colbert from the binding of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais (Paris 1657),donated by Charles Thomas-Stanford

In addition to many early works produced by notable printers, such as the Aldine Press, Elzevir and Estienne, there are productions of private presses from the late 19th century to the 1970s, such as the Ditchling, Golden Cockerell,  Kelmscott, Vine and Nonesuch Presses.  Many of the smaller presses were established in Sussex and so have local as well as national interest. 

Engraving by Eric Gill from Chaucer's The Canterbury tales, Vol 4 (Golden Cockerell Press, 1931)

A number of the books have fine bindings.  Among the English bindings there are several ‘Little Gidding’ bindings, including Guez de Balzac’s New epistles (1638), some Riviere bindings, and Seneca’s Tragediae (Amsterdam, 1645) in a binding by Roger Payne (c 1780).  The French bindings include the edition of Plato’s Gnomologia and a copy of Montaigne’s Essais, bound for Jean-Baptiste Colbert.


John Ackerman Erredge was editor of The Brighton observer and devoted many years to compiling a 10-volume History of Brighthelmstone, which was published after his death by Ebenezer Lewis.  He left to the Library 12 boxes of prints, newspaper cuttings and ephemera (posters, tickets, programmes, etc) relating to this project. 



'Soldiers of the Queen': Field Marshall Viscount Wolseley (right) with HRH the Duke of Connaught, HRH the Prince of Wales and HRH the Duke of Cambridge, from a scrapbook in the Wolseley Collection.

The most heavily-used of the special collections is the Wolseley Collection, which consists of papers of Field Marshal Viscount (Garnet) Wolseley and his daughter Frances, Viscountess Wolseley.  These are of interest to military, political and social historians.  Wolseley was a soldier for nearly fifty years, 1852-1901 and was Commander-in-Chief of H M Forces 1894-1901. Frances, reared to be a dutiful Victorian daughter, interested herself in the employment of women and became increasingly estranged from her parents.  She encouraged women to manage smallholdings to produce food for their own households and established a school for lady gardeners at Glynde in 1906.  She was also a considerable authority on the history of Sussex.

The contents of the collection reflect the interests of both parents and daughter.  Although Wolseley’s papers were divided after his death, the largest number is to be found atHove, including material relating to his military commissions and ceremonial missions.  These papers have been indexed by the Historical Manuscripts Commission.  In addition, there are 4000 letters between Wolseley and his wife, Louisa; Louisa’s correspondence with leading figures in the world of art, such as Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, Edmund Gosse, Cobden-Sanderson and G F Bodley; some 3000 autograph letters from leading personages of the day, collected by Wolseley; 33 scrapbooks of ephemera (advertisements, tradesmen’s bills, invitations, greetings card, calendars, etc) compiled by Frances at her father’s behest; Frances’s own papers and diaries; her garden designs, and a large collection of papers relating to Sussex villages and buildings, which she used in writing articles for a number of publications.

For more information on the Rare Books collections, including how to get a membership card to view items in the collections check the website. For any specific enquiries, you can e-mail RareBooks@brighton-hove.gov.uk, or call 01273 294005 .


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