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Physical & Digital Collections

Rare Books at Cambridge University Library: Specialist catalogues


Almanacs are catalogued under their author or title in the pre-1978 General and Supplementary Card Catalogues, and under 'ALMANACK' [sic] in the Supplementary Slip Catalogue. There is a card catalogue of almanacs from 1501-1800 – arranged in chronological order and in two divisions: 'British' and 'Foreign' – in the Rare Books Annexe. Some almanacs can also be found online. For other almanacs which are not listed in these catalogues enquire in the West Room at the Periodicals Desk.

Cambridge Collection (Cam)

Most of the books and many of the pamphlets in class Cam are catalogued online, but some pamphlets and other ephemera are entered only in a card catalogue in the Rare Books Annexe. Readers interested in other ephemera relating to societies, colleges, or general University and city affairs should consult the annotated copy of the Cambridge Papers classification, available at the Staff Desk, and the card index to societies included in the Papers, which stands in the Rare Books Annexe. Neither of these lists individual items held. Other information on the University and its societies is held in the University Archives or Manuscripts collections; please ask in the Manuscripts Reading Room.


For microfilms of STC, Wing, Thomason and ESTC items see British books 1501-1800 (above). For microfilms of ballads, see Ballads (also above). Mellon (preservation) microfilms are catalogued online. A catalogue of other microform series held in the Library is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room and some are listed online. Some items from microform series are also catalogued separately. There are card catalogues for items in the microform series French political pamphlets, 1547-1648 and Witchcraft in Europe and America (1,045 works published between the 15th and 20th centuries; an Author Index is also available to download as a PDF file) next to the supplementary catalogues in the corridor outside the Reading Room.

Older catalogues

Pre-1978 General Catalogue (the ‘Guardbooks’)

On the walls of the Catalogue room, located at the centre of the Library between the North and South reading rooms, and just beyond the main gallery above the Entrance Hall. This catalogue includes records for material thought to be of academic interest, published between 1501 and 1978 and purchased before 1995. All of the records should now be available online. Books are entered under author or issuing body, or the first word of the title if anonymous. There is no general subject access to the majority of this material, although books about an individual are entered under their name, and there are special volumes (shelved following Z) for dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias & grammars.

Supplementary catalogues

Books published from 1800–1905 that were thought to be of secondary interest were listed in the sheaf catalogue in the corridor outside the main Reading Room. There is also a card catalogue of books published from 1906–1977 of ‘secondary interest’, primarily UK-published material deposited under the Copyright Act. Material in the card catalogues (published up to the 1970s) is fetched to the Rare Books but only material published up to the 1920s can be found in iDiscover. The rest must be found in the card catalogue and ordered using a paper slip in the Rare Books Room. Also listed in the card catalogues is supplementary material relating to the First World War that complements items in the War of 1914–1919 collection. 

Card catalogues

There are also several card catalogues in the corridor outside the Reading Room, which contain some Rare Books material. These include (1) Pamphlets: some English and foreign pamphlets, and certain unbound works (foreign novels, etc.) published between 1800 and ca. 1960. Some of these items now have online records. (2) Microform series: card catalogues for items in the microform series French political pamphlets, 1547–1648 and Witchcraft in Europe and America (1,045 works published between the 15th and 20th centuries; an Author Index is also available to download as a pdf file). A catalogue of other microform series held in the Library is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room and some are catalogued online.

War of 1914-1919

The War card catalogue in the Rare Books Annexe contains author and anonymous title information for items in the War of 1914-1919 collection (WRA-WRE, also known as the War Reserve Collection). Many of the books in the collection appear online. However, ephemera and a large number of pamphlets and minor periodicals are listed only in the card catalogue. The card catalogue also includes books held elsewhere in the Library's collections, which are generally catalogued also in the Pre-1978 General Catalogue, online or the Supplementary Catalogue. Class catalogues for the collection WRA-WRE, which list items in shelf order, can be ordered at the Staff Desk to allow 'virtual browsing'. Much of WRA-WRE has now been microfilmed by a commercial publisher. In many cases, we no longer fetch the original items, but require you to consult the microfilm. Guides to the microfilm series are available at the Staff Desk. Microfilms are generally ordered in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Official Publications

Post-1999 material in the Official Publications collection can be found in the online catalogues. Much pre-1999 material is accessible only on a card catalogue in the Rare Books Room. For further information, see the collection description page and ask staff for assistance. 

Online catalogues

The primary library catalogue is iDiscover and staff can assist you to find what you need. Records for newly acquired Rare Books can be found in the online catalogues. Works acquired before 1995 were added to the Pre-1978 General Catalogue (the ‘Guardbooks’); records for all of these items are available online as well. Nevertheless, readers may still need to consult printed catalogues and indexes for some rare book material acquired before 1995; details of these are given below. Many of these catalogues are incomplete and readers who are unable to find what they want or experience difficulties in using the catalogues are strongly recommended to ask for help from the staff.


The Madden collection of ballads consists of 16,354 broadsides, comprising almost twice as many separate poems, and is mainly confined to the period 1750-1850. The collection must be consulted on microfilm. The broadsides are arranged according to town and printer and include complete collections of several printers. A card catalogue in the Rare Books Annexe lists the ballads by title. Ask at the Staff Desk for the index to printers and a brief guide to the collection by R.S. Thomson, which gives the microfilm reel numbers. There are two additional card catalogues: Irish ballads in class Hib.; and ballads in other collections. These also stand in the cabinets in the Rare Books Annexe. Some of these ballads are also catalogued online.

British books 1501-1800

British books published between 1501 and 1700 should appear in the online catalogue, but most are also listed in annotated copies of Pollard & Redgrave's Short title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland & Ireland ... 1475-1640 (STC) and Wing's Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, Ireland ... 1641-1700, which are kept at the Staff Desk. Records for many of these books are also included in the online English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC), but although this indicates which books are held in Cambridge, it does not currently include Library classmarks for all items published before 1701. Eighteenth-century books should also appear online. The majority of our holdings are included in the online ESTC, but although this gives Library classmarks, many of them have been transcribed incorrectly and should be treated with caution. If we do not hold an original pre-1801 British publication, we are likely to have a microfilm or digital copy. The easiest way to find classmarks to STC, Wing, Thomason and Eighteenth Century STC microfilm series is the online ESTC. Please note that the Library does not hold all microfilm collections referred to in ESTC records. Check online or the Microfilm catalogues (in the Manuscripts Reading Room) for series other than STC, Wing, Thomason & Eighteenth Century STC.

If ESTC is not available, the alternative methods of access are: STC: The reel guide and cross index to the microfilm collection stand at B125:1.11-. To use them, readers will need to find the reference number of the required item in the STC (B125:1.5-). Wing: Records for many Wing microfilms can be found online. There are author, title, subject and Wing number indexes to the first 1662 reels in Early English books 1641-1700: a cumulative index, units 1-60... (B125:2.36-); later reels can be accessed by Wing number (2nd ed. at B125:2.22-) using the reel guides and cross index at B125:2.9. Thomason Tracts: The Thomason tracts 1640-1661: an index to the microfilm edition of the Thomason Collection in the British Library stands at B125:2.16-. Vol. 1 is an index using Thomason reference numbers, which can be found in Catalogue of the pamphlets, books ... collected by George Thomason at B125:2.18-; vol. 2 is an cross-index using Wing numbers. Eighteenth Century STC: (Series in progress) Records for many ESTC microfilms can be found online. Items can also be found in The eighteenth century: guide to the microfilm collection (B125:3.44- ) but there is no cumulative index to this work since 1990. Digital images of many STC, Thomason and Wing items, produced from the microfilms above, can also be accessed using Early English books online (EEBO), which is available from all networked PCs in the Library.


The card catalogue of chapbooks, which is in the Rare Books Annexe, lists some 3,500 items printed in Great Britain and Ireland between 1750 and 1850, of which those printed before 1800 can also be found online. Roughly 60% of the items are 'chapbooks' (popular pamphlets distributed by chapmen or hawkers, rather than booksellers) in the true sense of the word, while the remainder are simply examples of early popular literature. The great majority are in the class CCA-CCE.7 while the Irish publications, around 5%, are mostly in class Hib. The books are indexed by author's name (where known), or by any proper name (fictitious or genuine) in the title, or by the first word of the title. The books are arranged by firstly by size and secondly by subject classification; the full scheme is available here. The class catalogue can be requested at the Staff Desk. A manuscript index of printers is available for the chapbooks bequeathed by J. W. L. Glaisher (around 900), kept at the Staff Desk. Approximately 1750 further chapbooks and similar items published abroad are catalogued in a second sequence of cards following the British and Irish material, arranged in the same manner.

Royal Commonwealth Society

The collection of the Royal Commonwealth Society is catalogued entirely on a large card catalogue that came to the University Library with the collection itself in 1992. Many items are now already included in the online catalogues, but for those which cannot be located, readers will need to consult the card catalogue. For details, please see these guidelines. Members of staff in the Rare Books room can assist with identifying material and translating the card information into classmarks. 

Book sales catalogues

The Library has an excellent collection of English auction catalogues relating to the sale of books and manuscripts, with extensive holdings of Sotheby's and Christie's catalogues back into the mid-nineteenth century, alongside catalogues of many of the major booksellers of the last century. Although few appear in the online catalogue, spreadsheets of these major auction houses' catalogues are now available online. A copy of the List of catalogues of English book sales, 1676-1900, now in the British Museum (1915) annotated with Cambridge holdings stands at B885.1. This includes many sales not specified elsewhere in the Library's catalogues. A. N. L. Munby's heavily annotated copy is at Munby.c.532. Lists of Christie's and Sotheby's catalogues received in the last thirty years, and Bloomsbury Book Auctions since 1978, are available from the Superintendents at the Staff Desk, as is a guide to the Sotheby's microfilm collection (1734-1970); the microfilms should be ordered in the Manuscripts Room. An annotated catalogue of the Munby collection can be ordered at the Staff Desk (classmark Munby.a.16). This collection includes circa 1000 English auction catalogues, 108 booksellers' catalogues and some 60 proposals and specimens, most of which are catalogued online. Some early foreign catalogues are entered in the Old Catalogues or online. Many of the sales catalogues held in the Library have not been listed in any catalogue or index, especially booksellers' catalogues. Readers looking for catalogues are therefore advised to ask the staff if they do not find them in the catalogues or the indexes above.


A five-year project to create electronic records for the library's fifteenth-century printed books was completed in September 2014. Before this work was undertaken, classmarks for incunabula were to be found only in an annotated copy of J. C. T. Oates' Catalogue of the fifteenth-century printed books in the University Library Cambridge, kept at the Staff Desk. The catalogue is arranged by place of printing, beginning with Germany. There are indexes to author/anonymous title; printer, publisher etc.; and previous owners. Two online provenance indexes are also available, detailing former owners of incunabula in the Library's collections. The first lists personal ownership, the second institutional ownership. Owners are listed alphabetically, followed by brief details of the incunabula associated with them. Clicking on the links will extract the full bibliographical record for each item from the Library's online catalogue. Information on the Library's incunabula can also be found on the Incunabula short title catalogue (ISTC), freely available via The British Library. An incomplete card catalogue of incunabula belonging to some college libraries stands in the Rare Books Annexe, but this catalogue is no longer updated and does not include items acquired in the last twenty years. Published catalogues of incunabula held in several Cambridge colleges stand at B111.7-13.


For all books catalogued by the Department since 1998, donors, annotators and previous owners of books have been indexed online, with the following identification labels: former owner; donor; depositor; annotator; inscriber. All such names can be found by combining an 'Author Name' search with a search for the any of the above labels as 'Relator Terms'. See also under Incunabula (above). For books catalogued before 1998, there is a partial card catalogue of bookplates, labels and stamps in the Rare Books Annexe. This is confined almost entirely to books acquired by the Library since the 1960s, although a few earlier items have been added when they have been recatalogued. Some autographs in printed books are registered in the catalogue of manuscripts in the Manuscripts Room. While signatures in many modern books are entered there, relatively few are registered from early books. There is a card index to annotators in class Adv – the Library's main collection of printed books with annotations - in the Rare Books Annexe. This catalogue does not list any notes or marks of ownership in books in other classes in the Library. An annotated copy of H. R. Luard's Catalogue of adversaria and printed books containing MS. notes preserved in the library of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1864) is available at the Staff Desk; although now largely out of date, this can be of occasional help. Some of the Library's armorial bindings are indexed in an incomplete file which is not on public access. Please ask at the Desk if you are interested in tracing a particular armorial binding, and we will check this file for you.

A provenance index to printed books in the Library was begun by Charles Sayle in 1894; it is now available in the Manuscripts Room as MS Add. 6450. It contains many hundreds of entries, but only a very few additions have been made since Sayle’s death in 1924. The catalogue of the Library by Jonathan Pindar, begun around 1650 and known as the Donors' Book, arranges the contents of the Library chronologically by donors from the fifteenth century to 1658. It was continued by other hands to around 1680, then intermittently to 1718. However, it is by no means comprehensive or, indeed, reliable for the early period. It is available in the Manuscripts Room as MS Oo.7.52. Much useful information on the provenance of particular collections and copies in the Library can be found in Cambridge University Library: a history by J.C.T. Oates and D. McKitterick (B926.2-3); many previous owners are listed in the indexes. Chapter 7 of David Pearson's Provenance research in book history: a handbook (B873.26) includes information on other provenance indexes available in this library and other Cambridge libraries.


A card catalogue of the photographs and separate engravings in the Library's portrait collection is available from the Staff Desk. Most of the portraits in this collection are of people connected in some way with the University, and readers unable to trace British portraits here should also consult F. O'Donoghue's Catalogue of engraved British portraits preserved in the ... British Museum, London 1908-1925 (R405.134). The E. H. L. Jennings portrait collection is a collection of around 100,000 foreign portraits, mainly from continental Europe and the U.S.A. The key and card index are incomplete and are not on public access, but staff will search the volumes on request. Please ask the Superintendents. Other portraits are held in deposited archives (e.g. those of Cambridge Antiquarian Society), which should be enquired for in the Manuscripts Room. Some of the portrait paintings and drawings in the Library are listed in J. W. Goodison's Catalogue of Cambridge portraits, Part 1, Cambridge 1955 (405:8.b.95.4 or Cam.b.955.2).

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