In 1892 Mrs Rylands purchased from John Poyntz Spencer (1835-1910), 5th Earl Spencer, what was acknowledged to be the finest library in private ownership, notable for its outstanding collection of Bibles.
The majority of the items were acquired at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century by George John (1758-1834), 2nd Earl Spencer, although both earlier and later acquisitions were made by other members of the Spencer family.
Lord Spencer's prime concern in building his collection was to acquire first editions of the Greek and Latin classics and to establish a complete collection of Aldines.
He visited Italy to accomplish his aims, purchasing, for example, a large portion of the Neapolitan library of the Duke of Cassano-Serra. However, Spencer did not neglect other aspects of collecting both by language and by date: it is estimated that the Collection contains 10,000 Italian books of all periods, one quarter of the total.
Spencer subscribed to many 18th- and early 19th-century publications, and his wide interests can be illustrated by the large number of editions of the works of Vitruvius, Andrea Palladio and Leon Battista Alberti which he possessed.
Today the Spencer Collection, including the libraries of Count Reviczky, Stanesby Alchorne and the Duke of Cassano-Serra, is of fundamental importance for the history of printing in Europe in the era of the hand-press, with all the important presses represented.
See also the Incunabula collection.
- Recorded in general printed-book catalogue.
- Catalogue of the Printed Books in the John Rylands Library, 3 vols (Manchester, 1899), which contains details of the Spencer Collection, reproduced on microfiche by Chadwyck-Healey, 1989.
- Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Bibliotheca Spenceriana, 7 vols (London, 1814-23).
- Anthony Lister, 'The Althorp library of Second Earl Spencer, now in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester: its formation and growth', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 71, no. 2 (1989), pp. 67-86.