Birmingham City Council

Early and Fine Printing Collection

Important Update July 2011 - At the present time access to this collection is closed to allow for preparation of stock in readiness for the move to the new Library of Birmingham in 2013.

Find out more about the changes in Central Library


These collections contain nearly 13,000 items, of which over 8,200 an unusually large number for a public library, were printed before 1701. Of these, 128 are incunabula (a book printed before 1501). More than 4,500 books printed after 1700 have been chosen due to their fine printing, illustration, binding or a combination of these for the Fine Printing Collection.

How to see rare books from the Early and Fine Printing Collection

Recent titles added to the Early and Fine Printing Collection.

Early Printing Collection

The collection includes books, incunabula, manuscripts, atlases and maps. The collection includes two local parish libraries on deposit from Kings Norton and Sheldon, originally the libraries of Rev. Thomas Hall (1610-1665) and Rev. Thomas Bray (1656-1730).

Fine Printing Collection

Find out about Fine Printing - the Kelmscott Press and William Morris, other famous private presses and the William Ridler Collection that was deposited with the Library in 1988. There is an almost complete collection of books and ephemera printed by John Baskerville, the 18th Century Birmingham type designer and printer. Celebrate the private presswork of Bill Pardoe and David Wishart.

Illustrated Books and Binding

There is an outstanding collection of fine illustrated books, many hand coloured and a small group of early photographic books. The library is privileged to hold J. J. Audubon's "Birds of America" as well as many other beautifully illustrated natural history books.There are examples of bookbindings ranging from the 15th Century to the work of contemporary designers , and a small collection of

Creation Zone

Over 3,000 images of particular interest to designers were digitally scanned. You can see these images on the Creation Zone web site.These are principally from Birmingham Libraries' Rare and Fine Printing Collections, but other works are also included, such as toys and games and maps and atlases. There are also representative works from the Walsall Leather Museum. It is hoped to increase the range of images that designers can choose from in the future.

One of the major aims of Creation Zone is to search images by styles, moods, methods or items of individual content rather than just through traditional means of artists or title.

Designation Status

Birmingham Central Library is unique amongst UK public libraries for the depth and range of its collections. This unique status has now been recognised by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) who have awarded six of its collections "designated" status. This means that they are recognised as having national and international significance as library and archive collections.

Nationally, 38 collections were designated in 28 institutions and included only 2 other public libraries, Bristol and Westminster who were designated for one collection each. The panel stated that 'The quality, range and depth of Birmingham's collections reflect its status as Britain's second city' and that the designation application 'clearly demonstrates [the collections'] broader significance in terms of the social, industrial, commercial and cultural history of the city, the region, and the nation'

Contact details

You will need to book an appointment in advance to see books from the Early and Fine Printing Collections.

The material is available to view on: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10am- 5pm and Thursdays 10am-8pm.

Enquiries are welcome by letter, telephone, fax and email.

Floor 3,
Arts, Languages and Literature,
Central Library
Chamberlain Square,
B3 3HQ
Tel: 0121 303 4227
Fax: 0121 464 1005

John Baskerville