Rare Books and Special Collections

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All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified.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.

Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available

Learn about rare books


Interested in learning more about rare books? Here are some resources from the Library's collections to get you started.

Sydney in 1848: illustrated by copper-plate engravings of its principal streets, public buildings, churches, chapels, etc

Sydney in 1848 : Illustrated by Copper-Plate Engravings of Its Principal Streets, Public Buildings, Churches, Chapels, Etc. / from Drawings by Joseph Fowles. J. Fowles, 1848.

State Library of NSW: RB/LQ0010/F


Illuminated manuscripts

Some of the most beautiful written works produced are illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts were handwritten and adorned with decorative features to give the impression the page is illuminated.

Monastery workshops produced the majority of the illuminated manuscripts. The manuscripts were created for the monastery or the church but also for commissions.

Most illuminated manuscripts that have survived are from the Medieval era, before the rise of the printing press in the 16th century.

Two examples from the Library's collection are The Rimini Antiphonal, 1328 from Northern Italy and the Bourges Book of Hours, 1480 from Northern France. Learn about the Library’s illuminated manuscripts.

Book of Hours

Book of Hours, Bourges, ca. 1480

Book of Hours, Bourges. This book of hours was produced in the workshop of Jean Colombe of Bourges, ca. 1480.

State Library of NSW: Safe 1/7c

Rare booksellers' catalogues

Search the Library's catalogue to find antiquarian and rare booksellers catalogues. Most of these catalogues are from Australian booksellers or contain Australian materials.

Use search term "Booksellers' catalogs" when searching for booksellers catalogues.


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.

The Library’s incunabula include many rare and valued works such as Liber Cronicarum and Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Liber cronicarum

Liber Cronicarum

Liber cronicarum

Schedel, Hartmann, et al. Liber Cronicarum. Anthonius Koberger, 1493.

State Library of NSW: RICHARDSON/ INC/ 275