Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors are kindly advised that this website includes images, sounds and names of people who have passed.
All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified. Certain words, terms or descriptions may reflect the author's/creator's attitude or that of the period in which they were written, but are now considered inappropriate in today's context.
The collection was formed from the General Reference Library, which in turn contained the original collection of the Australian Subscription Library, the predecessor to the State Library of New South Wales.
Ferdinandi Bauer Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae, Sive, Icones Generum Quae in Prodromo Florae Novae Hollandiae Et Insulae Van Diemen Descripsit Robertus Brown. Veneunt apud Auctorem, 10 Russel Street, Bloomsbury, 1813.
State Library of NSW: SAFE/F581.99/B
There are approximately 30,000 books in the collection dating from the early thirteenth century up to the modern day.
The collection includes illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, artist’s books, limited edition, one of a kind books and books from private printing presses.
The Library also has significant collections, known as Special Collections, in the Rare Books collection. These collections cover subjects like art, chess, travel and magic.
The Library has mostly acquired these collections through bequest and donation but the Library also purchased collections such as the Penguin Books collection. The Library continues to add material to some of the collections such as the Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature.
While individual items within these collections may not be rare or valuable, the collections themselves are unique and irreplaceable.
There are special catalogues for Special Collections. Ask at the Special Collections desk to see if a Special Collection has a catalogue.
We are continuing to expand the Rare Books collection through new acquisitions.
We consider each acquisition based on its relevance to the Library's collections, uniqueness, importance to the history of printing and binding, and its association interest.
We also move material from other Library collections to this collection if the fragility, historical importance or monetary value has changed.
The Library’s Rare Books collection includes books printed in Australia before 1850 and books printed overseas before 1800, but these aren’t the only items in the collection.
You will also find books that have been published much later and:
A Picturesque Tour of the English Lakes : Containing a Description of the Most Romantic Scenery of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire, with Accounts of Antient and Modern Manners and Customs ... : Illustrated with Forty-Eight Coloured Views / Drawn by T. H. Fielding and J. Walton ... Printed for R. Ackermann, 1821.
State Library of NSW: MacPherson/ Q0127
Alfred Tennyson. In Memoriam. 4th ed., Edward Moxon, 1851.
State Library of NSW: MacPherson/ 0088
Fore-edge painting is an artform using a book.
The front edge of the pages are painted, usually using watercolour, while the book is held so the page edges are offset.
Over the top of the painting, the edge of the pages are then gilt.
When the book is closed, it looks like a normal gilt edged book, but when held the right way, the hidden picture is revealed.
Grangerised material is a printed work that has had extra content added later, such as writing, original works of art, photographs or maps.
The English and Australian Cookery Book : Cookery for the Many, as Well as for the Upper Ten Thousand / by an Australian Aristologist. Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1864.
State Library of NSW: RB/MA 1 V 67