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Rare Books and Special Collections

Special Collections

We have several significant collections, known as Special Collections, within the Library's Rare Books collection

Most of these collections concentrate on a particular topic ranging from medicine to magic. Many were acquired through bequests to the Library which helps to preserve and share Australia’s heritage for future generations.

The Benevolent Society Gordon Bradley Lowe Collection of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

The Benevolent Society of New South Wales donated approximately 250 works on obstetrics and gynaecology to the Library. The works were all published before 1900, with the earliest dating from the sixteenth century.

The collection includes several notable items such as Jacques Guillemeau's Child-birth, published in 1635, and William Smellie's A set of anatomical tables, published in 1754.

Finding items in the collection
Use Obstetrics and gynaecology: short-title catalogue of books published before 1900 and available in Australia to learn about the books in the collection. Ask staff at the Special Collections desk about the catalogue.

The Cervantes collection

In 1997, Dr Ben Haneman, donated the collection of 1,591 works by or about the Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes, to the Library.

The collection has over 1100 different editions of Don Quixote including a first edition of the second part of Don Quixote that was published in 1620 and an edition with paintings by Salvador Dalí. There are also editions in 50 languages such as Hebrew, Afrikaans, Welsh, and Portuguese. There are also critical and biographical works, and realia in the collection.

Don Quixote is central to Spanish literature, to world literature, to writing, production and reading of books and, in my fervent belief, is central to living and being.’

— Dr Ben Haneman

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'RB/CER*'.

Learn more about The Cervantes collection.

The Vaughan and van Manen Chess collections

This collection contains over 400 books, serials, tournament bulletins, manuscripts and material donated by Frank L. Vaughan and John van Manen between 1962 and 1973.

Material in the collection covers 1874 to 1973 and includes material from Australia and overseas in various languages. Vaughan’s manuscripts of over 40,000 annotated games, indexed under various openings, end games and gambits, form a major part of the collection. 

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'Chess*'.

You can also use the F. L. Vaughan and Van Manen Chess Collection catalogue to find items in the collection. Ask at the Special Collections desk about the catalogue.

The Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature

The Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature was established with a small collection of books and funds provided through a bequest from Margaret and Elizabeth MacPherson. This bequest became fully available to the Library in 1970, and it was directed that the funds from it be used for "the purchase of books of pure literature and fine art, that is to say books of literature and about literature and fine arts".

In the collection you will find a variety of works like Waltzing Matilda written by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson and illustrated by Kevin Charles 'Pro' Hart, The water-colour drawings of J.M.W. Turner in the National Gallery and Gertrude Jennings's Poached eggs and pearls.

The Twentieth Century British Drama collection also forms part of the collection. It was purchased in 1983 and comprises over 4,000 titles, offering a comprehensive sample of modern British theatre in the period 1900 to 1980. Much of the material is from small publishers, private drama societies or local institutes, and is unlikely to be published again.

Learn more about the The Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'MacPherson*'.

The Model School Library

The Library curated this collection by selecting books from 1939 to 1948 to form a model library for Australian schools.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'Model School Library*'.

You can also use the Model School Library guide to find material in the collection. Ask at the Special Collections desk about the guide.

The Penguin Books collection

In 1981, the Library purchased the foundation of the Penguin collection from C. C. Kohler, an antiquarian book dealer from the United Kingdom. The Library has continued to add titles to fill gaps in the collection. The collection now consists of over 3000 paperback books published by Penguin between 1935 and 1979. Both fiction and non-fiction books in the Penguin, Pelican and Penguin Specials series are in the collection with many first edition Penguins.

The collection embodies a complete generation's culture and thought when the printed word was the primary means of communication.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'Penguin*' or 'Pelican*'.

You can also use the Penguin Books collection guide (Penguin books collection 1935–1979: author and title index and Penguin books collection 1935–1979: Pelican series). Ask at the Special Collections desk about the guide.

The Nelson Moore Richardson and Helen Morewood Richardson collection

The collection was bequeathed to the Library by Nelson Moore Richardson and was received in 1926 from his widow. The collection includes 289 volumes of mainly texts of the English Bible and related material, early printed books, herbals and medieval manuscripts including the Rimini Antiphonal, a large illuminated choir book from 1328.

Learn more about The Nelson Moore Richardson and Helen Morewood Richardson collection.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'Richardson*'.

The Robbins Collection of Stage Magic

The Robbins collection was purchased by the Library from the estate of stage magician R. B. Robbins. Robbins performed under the stage name of Robert Merlini. The collection contains some 900 books, trade catalogues, pamphlets and serials, including rare material dating from 1799 to 1962, much of which was originally the property of the Great Levante. Some items in the collection belonged to Harry Houdini and bear his signature.

The collection is one of the few of its kind in the world, as it represents a rare example of a working magician's collection. Many of the items are of great rarity, as conjurers' tricks were amongst the most closely guarded of trade secrets. Some of the material was sold only to professional magicians.

Learn more about The Robbins Collection of Stage Magic.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'Robbins*'.

You can also use the Robbins Stage Magic collection catalogue to find material in the collection. Ask at the Special Collections desk about the catalogue.

The St Matthias Church Sunday School Library

The Library acquired the collection in 1964 from the St Matthias Church of England in Paddington. In the collection there is approximately 1200 items of a religious or instructional nature. Most items in the collection were published by the Religious Tract Society between 1846 and 1899.

The collection is representative of a Sunday School collection in use at the turn of the century.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'SSSM*'.

You can also use the Sunday School Library: St Matthias, Paddington index to find material in the collection. There is also a catalogue and a loans register that covers from September 1891 to February 1899. Ask staff at the Special Collections desk.

The Bourke Street Congregational Church and Sunday School Library

The Library acquired the collection in 1982 from the Bourke Street Darlinghurst Congregational Church. While collection was incomplete as most material had been destroyed before it was acquired, it still has 513 books. The books were published between 1832 and 1920. The collection represents a typical Sunday School lending library in use from the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.

The works come from a wide range of publishing houses, such as the Religious Tract Society, Hodder & Stoughton, T. Nelson & Sons, and the London Missionary Society. As such, it provides an interesting comparison to the St Matthias Library which was operating for some of the same period. Both libraries are illustrative of the social and religious attitudes of their day.

Finding items in the collection
Use Advanced Search in the Library's catalogue to search the collection. Limit your search by including the call number: 'SSBS*'.

You can also use the Sunday school library: Bourke St. Congregational index to find material in the collection. Ask at the Special Collections desk about the index.

Incunabula

Inicipit Tractatus de virtutibus herbarum
Digital order number: a2727010

Books printed between 1455 and 1501 are called incunabula. The word incunabula is Latin for cradle and refers to the first fifty years of printing when the process was in it's infancy.

Search the Library’s Catalogue to find more than 200 works.

Shakespeare's Folios and other works

Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies
Digital order number: a300010

The Library has a complete set of Shakespeare’s Folios in the Rare Books collection. The First Folio has been fully digitised and is available through the Library catalogue.

Learn more about Shakespeare Folios.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta, regarded by many as the foundation of legal practice in England, has been a major influence on the development of democracy in countries around the world.

Manuscript book of statutes containing Magna Carta and 20 other statutes in Latin or French
Digital order number: c025080424

Nelson Moore Richardson bequeathed the volume to the Library in 1926 along with a collection of bibles and early manuscripts.

Learn more about the Magna Carta.

Bibles at the Library

The Library's Rare Book collections include many notable bibles from the 15th to the 21st century. The Library has each landmark Bible, from the first complete Bible in English through to King James Bible.

Many of these bibles are in the Library's The Nelson Moore Richardson and Helen Morewood Richardson collection which also includes early printed religious works.

The Byble: which is all the holy Scripture in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament
Digital order number: a4794001