Rare Books and Special Collections

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All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified.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

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

Using the Rare Books collection

You will need a Special Collections card to use material from the Library's Rare Books collection

If you already have a Library card we can swap it for a Special Collections card when you visit the Library. 
You'll need to bring in two forms of identification to upgrade to a Special Collections card.

Finding material

Enter RB* or SC* in the catalogue search box or enter INC* to search for the incunabula.

Finding Rare Books collections material

You can also limit your search to a specific Special Collection by using the below call numbers:

  • RB/CER* — Cervantes collection
  • Chess* — Vaughan and van Manen Chess collection
  • MacPherson* — Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature
  • Model School Library* — Model School Library
  • Penguin* — Penguin Books collection
  • Pelican* — Penguin Books collection
  • Richardson* — Nelson Moore Richardson and Helen Morewood Richardson collection
  • Robbins* — Robbins Collection of Stage Magic
  • SSSM* — St Matthias Church Sunday School Library
  • SSBS* — Bourke Street Congregational Church and Sunday School Library.

Next, scroll to the heading Location in the right hand column of your results and click on the checkbox next to the term Rare Books. Note: you may have to click on Show More to see the Rare Books checkbox.

Requesting material

We recommend requesting material before visiting as you may need permission or an appointment to view the material, and some items are now stored offsite and can take up to 4 days to be transferred to the Library.

If you’re at the Library you can request material by completing a stack request slip. Give the completed slip to staff at the Special Collections desk.

You can request an item up to 7 working days in advance. It’s okay if you don't have a Special Collections card — just sign up for a Library card and we’ll swap it for a Special Collections card when you visit. But make sure to bring two forms of identification to get a Special Collections card. 

We’ll get back to you within 4 working days about your request.

Viewing and using material

Visit the Special Collections area to view and use material from the rare books collections.

We may provide you with a microfilm or digital copy rather than the original. This is to protect and preserve the original copy.

Curtis's botanical magazine

Curtis's botanical magazine

Curtis's Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-Garden Displayed, London : Printed by Stephen Couchman for W. Curtis, 1807-1844.

State Library of NSW: RB/DS580.5/2

Special Collections area

The Special Collections area is a dedicated space to use original material and rare printed material from the Library's collections.

Find the Special Collections area at the southern end of the Mitchell Library Reading Room. The Special Collections area is closed on Sundays.


Digitised image of a coloured plate of a feather and fish hook

Journal of a voyage to New South Wales

Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales : with Sixty-Five Plates of Non Descript Animals, Birds, Lizards, Serpents, Curious Cones of Trees and Other Natural Productions / by John White. Printed for J. Debrett, 1790.

State Library of NSW: Q79/34