Fine Book Room Collection

Belfast Central Library, since its foundation in 1888, has built up an outstanding collection of rare books, manuscripts and archives, which now constitute the Special Collections. The majority of these resources are housed in the Fine Book Room. The collections include landmark examples of printing in Europe over the last five centuries, including examples of fine typography, magnificently illustrated works and rare bindings. The subject range of the collection is vast, encompassing theology and philosophy; economic, social, political and military history; art and costume; travel and exploration; literature, science and medicine. The collections are key resources for a wide range of research interests, especially in the field of Irish Studies. The Fine Book Room Collection is separated from the general Belfast, Ulster and Irish Studies Departmental Collections because of the rarity of the items. Sections of note in this collection include Incunabula - a range of early printed books. This is a collection from the 15th century including Aulus Gellius "Noctes Atticae", printed in Venice by Nicholas Jenson, 1492 and Thomas Aquinas "Quaestiones de duodecim quodlibet", printed by Johann Zainer at Ulm, 1475. The Early Printed Books comprise English and continental books printed between 1501-1799. These include Diderot and D'Alembert "Encyclopedie", 35 volumes, published in Paris, Neuchatel and Amsterdam, 1751-1780 and Johannes Blaeu - Le Grand Atlas, in 12 volumes printed in Amsterdam, 1667, this copy was bound by Albert Magnus for Count Johann Gabriel Stenbock. There is also a collection of over 1,000 early Belfast printed books, including works from presses of Archer, Blew, Joy, Magee, Mairs, Simms and Smyth. A collection of the fine printed works of Marcus Ward and Company are also held. Fine editions of private presses such as Golden Cockerel and Doves Press have been acquired. The holdings of Dun Emer and Cuala Presses are almost complete. With regard to book production there are examples of fine bindings, fore-edge paintings, illuminated manuscripts and fine typography represented. Noteworthy also are the Bryson and MacAdam Manuscripts, a rich resource for the study of the Irish language in Ulster in the 18th and 19th centuries. The author's copy of "Memoir of a Map of Ireland" by Beaufort, interleaved with extensive MSS additions by him (1792), evidently for a second edition. Other areas of interest in the collection include costume, hunting and a collection of first and limited editions, including works such as Dickens "Little Dorit", with illustration by H.R. Browne, 1855-57, in the original 20 monthly parts. 18th and 19th century pamphlets, text books from the Kildare Place Society and a selection of children's literature, with examples from noted printers and illustrators contribute to this rich and wide ranging collection.


The collection is a formidable research resource into all aspects of regional and Irish history. Many of the books, pamphlets, maps and manuscripts are not held by any other local library or in some cases any other library in Ireland.

Physical characteristics

8,500 volumes, excluding maps and individual MSS.

Description or Catalogue

Items in this collection are listed on an inhouse database.


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Added by Libraries NI | Last updated on: 24 May 2018