Almost every technique ever employed in book illustration is represented in the Library's holdings: woodcuts, engravings on wood, copper and steel, mezzotints, etchings on copper and steel, aquatints, lithographs, tipped-in photographs, chemitypes, heliotypes, collotypes, line-blocks, half-tones and chromolithographs.
The Incunabula collection comprises fifteen block-books and a number of block-prints, including the St Christopher Woodcut of 1423, the earliest surviving example of European printing to bear a date, and the only surviving wood block used to print a block-book, an as yet unidentified variant edition of the Apocalypse.
Albrecht Pfister in Bamberg was the first printer to introduce woodcuts into books printed with movable type.
The Library holds the only examples in Britain of Pfister's output - four complete works and part of a fifth, including his Historie von Joseph, Daniel, Judith und Esther and the Biblia Pauperum of 1462. The woodcuts in both works are hand-coloured.
Among the other numerous illustrated incunabula are a copy (again unique in Britain) of Ulrich Han's 1467 edition of the Meditationes of Cardinal Turrecremata, the first Italian illustrated book; a copy of the first book to contain illustrations of a technical nature, Roberto Valturio’s De Re Militari, which was printed by Johannes de Verona in 1472; a Florentine edition of Dante printed in 1481 with images engraved by Bandinelli after Botticelli; and a copy of the most famous of Venetian illustrated books, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, printed by Aldus Manutius in 1499.
Noteworthy among German illustrated incunables are a copy of Johann Zainer’s edition of Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus (Ulm, 1473), whose woodcuts so impressed Emery Walker and William Morris, and copies of the German and Latin versions of Hartmann Schedel’s Nürnberg Chronicle, ornamented with some 1,800 illustrations by Michael Wolgemut (Nürnberg, Anton Koberger, 1493).
Many of the incunables are illuminated or hand-coloured. The Hiero von Holtorp collection also includes two portfolios of early engravings and etchings, and eight portfolios of woodcuts.
Among the many artists and illustrators who feature in the Library’s printed holdings the following are worthy of note:
Michael Wolgemut (1434–1519), Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), Lucas Cranach (1472–1553), Hans Holbein the Younger (1497–1543), Jan Calcar (c.1499–1546), Hans Schaüfelein (fl. 1505–38), Geofroy Tory (1480–1533), Jost Amman (1539–91), Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–77), Sebastien Leclerc (1637–1714), John Sturt (1658–1730), William Kent (1684–1748), George Vertue (1684–1756), William Hogarth (1697–1764);
George Powle (fl. 1764–71), Moses Griffith (fl. 1769–1809), Samuel Grimm (1734–94), Edward Edwards (1738–1806), Francis Jukes (1745–1812), Thomas Daniell (1749–1840), Thomas Bewick (1753–1828), Thomas Stothard (1755–1834), Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827), James Gillray (1757–1815), William Blake (1757–1827) (including a copy of Young’s Night Thoughts hand-coloured by Blake himself), William Daniell (1769–1837), J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), John James Audubon (1785–1851), John Martin (1789–1854), George Cruikshank (1792–1878), David Roberts (1796–1864);
John Gould (1804–81), Edward Lear (1812–88), Hablot Knight Browne (‘Phiz’) (1815–82), George Dalziel (1815–1902), Edward Dalziel (1817–1905), John Ruskin (1819–1900), John Tenniel (1820–1914), Thomas Dalziel (1823–1906), Myles Birket Foster (1825–99), William Holman Hunt (1827–1910), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82), John Everett Millais (1829–96), Gustav Doré (1832–83), Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98), William Morris (1834–96), George Du Maurier (1834–96), Walter Crane (1845–1915), Randolph Caldecott (1846–86), Kate Greenaway (1846–1901), Herbert Railton (1858–1911), Lucien Pissarro (1863–1944), Charles Ricketts (1866–1931), Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Arthur Rackham (1867–1939), Edmund J. Sullivan (1869–1933), Charles Robinson (1870–1937), Jack Butler Yeats (1871–1957), Aubrey Beardsley (1872–98) (the Library has a complete run of The Yellow Book, 1894–97), William Nicholson (1872–1949), Edmund Dulac (1882–1953), Eric Gill (1882–1940), Gwen Raverat (1885–1957), Robert Gibbings (1889–1958), Paul Nash (1889–1946), John Nash (1893–1977), Agnes Miller Parker (1895–1980), Clare Leighton (1898–1989);
Barnett Freedman (1901–58), Charles Tunnicliffe (1901–79), Eric Ravilious (1903–42), Edward Bawden (1903–89) and Stephen Raw (1952–).
The Natural History and Ornithological collection comprises most of the great 18th- and 19th-century illustrated botanical and ornithological books.
The Private Press collection and Casdagli collection contain a particularly fine selection of books illustrated or decorated by Burne-Jones, Morris, Pissarro, Ricketts, Jack B. Yeats, Raverat, Gill, Gibbings, Agnes Miller Parker and other members of the British school of wood-engraving.
Recorded in general printed-book catalogue.
The John Rylands Library (dispersed)