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The University of Manchester Library

Overview of The University of Manchester Library special printed books

The University of Manchester Library houses one of the most important collections in the world relating to the birth and development of Western printing and the history of the book.

The Library’s 4,000 incunables (books printed in the 15th century) represent over 500 European presses. They include the largest collection of Aldines in the world and the second largest collection of works printed by Caxton. Many derive from the outstanding Spencer collection, assembled by the 2nd Earl Spencer in the early 19th century and bought by Mrs Rylands in 1892. The collection of early printed books constitutes one of the world’s principal resources for studying the publication of the classics of Greece and Rome, as well as of the writings of late medieval and early modern authors.

The Library holds some 12,500 books printed between 1475 and 1640, and a further 210,000 printed between 1641 and 1800. The first and finest editions of later authors in the European canon of writers can be found in the collections. De-luxe editions, extra-illustrated and large-paper copies and fine bindings are plentiful, but there are also substantial collections of working-class literature, such as broadsides and chapbooks.

The printed book collections cover a vast range of subjects: theology and philosophy; economic, social, political and military history; French Revolutionary works; travel and exploration; literature, drama and music; art and archaeology; travel and exploration; science and medicine. They are a major resource for the study of book history, illustrating the origin and development of Western printing from the 15th century to the present day.

The library continues to strengthen its printed book collections by purchase and donation. For further information see page nine of the Content Development Policy.