The Library - Special collections

Article Index

Special Collections

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Brasenose Library holds a wonderful and diverse collection of rare books and manuscripts dating back to the 11th century. Although our collection is not as grand as other colleges, it does consist of scholastically and historically interesting and important works.

Brasenose itself holds the majority of our rare books, however, many of our manuscripts are held at the Weston Library, which is part of the Bodleian.

Items that are catalogued in these collections are searchable via SOLO, and we actively encourage researchers and students to use our collections. Please do send us an email if you wish to view or research our items in more detail.

Our rare books and manuscripts are unfortunately not available for browsing or loan, but are able to be consulted in more detail for research purposes.

Books with a shelf mark prefix of Lath, UB/S, MS, Yarb, Σ, LR/Folio are contained in these collections.







The main collectionsdetail_founders_bible.jpg

The college has two main collections that make up our rare book holdings. The pre-1640 collection, and the Stamford Collection (owing to its previous location in Stamford House basement) which contains an eclectic range of books mostly dating between 1640 and the late 1700s.

The pre-1640 collection at Brasenose consists of at least 2,500 items, including 84 incunables (books printed before 1500). A catalogue compiled in 1556 lists over 100 volumes, which are still in the collection, with several given by one of the founders of the College, William Smyth. The collection was substantially enlarged in 1647 with a bequest from alumnus Henry Mason of around 500 volumes (mainly theological works), some of which are very rare. 

The core of the Stamford collection consists of bequests, most of which reflect the libraries of former Principals of the College, from the period of the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration on into the eighteenth century. The subject coverage as established thus far, is diverse including antiquarian learning, law, political and religious pamphlets in addition to both English and European literature.

Please note the cataloguing of the both these collections is still ongoing (around 70% is catalogued), and until completed the full richness, or exact size (thought to be in the region of 10,000 items), of the holdings cannot be determined.

Additional collections

In addition to the two main rare collections, Brasenose Library holds a number of periodicals that can be searched via SOLO.

We also hold a collection called Brasenose Authors. This consists of books written by, and about, members of Brasenose College past and present. The books range from modest pamphlets and anecdotal tales of yesteryear to major works such as Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

Not all works by Brasenose Authors find their way into this collection as many of those more recently donated and deemed to be relevant to the studies of current students are added to the main collection. Please note this collection is still being catalogued, but items already catalogued are searchable on SOLO. Books that are held in this collection can be identified by the "Bras" prefix e.g. Bras B 112. Please ask if you would like to view any item in this collection. A list of presentations to the library appears in each volume of the Brazen Nose. It includes all those authored by current and old members.

Finally, we do have a small collection of books relating to all things Oxford, such as college histories. We have called this the Oxford Collection, and includes titles such as, The History of the University and Oxford Historical Society Publications.


close up rare books


Using our special collections

We actively encourage the use of our rare collections and want our books to facilitate worldwide research.

Our library team is very accommodating and aims to fulfil all requests to view material as best we can. Appointments are usually made between 9am and 4pm Monday- Friday. Unfortunately, we cannot acommodate viewings during the weekend.

Please do email our library email address ([email protected]) if you have any questions about our special collections, or would like to request a viewing. We have two members of staff, Joanna Mills and Sophie Floate, who are focused on our rare books and will get back to you as soon as possible.

If you are a lecturer or researcher teaching at Brasenose College or in the university and would like to use our books in teaching, please email Joanna to discuss further ([email protected]). 

New to requesting rare books or manuscripts?

We know it can be daunting requesting rare books or manuscripts for the first time, so we have created a brief leaflet of what to expect on your first visit to us or elsewhere. You can find it on our libguides page here.


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