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Library Special Collection

What is it?

You may have noticed that there are glass cabinets full of books and other objects in the Library – these are items that need a bit more care or security and they make up the Library’s Special Collection.

Some of the books are old, some may be quite rare or signed or limited editions, some of them are a bit fragile, some have delicate or fiddly designs that would easily get damaged or lost out on the main shelves, and some of them really stretch the idea of what a ‘book’ actually is.

Where is it?

The Special Collection is kept in the cabinets on the first floor of the Library. These are kept locked, but everything is available to be viewed on request – just ask at the Library Helpdesk. Items from the Special Collection cannot be borrowed, but you can sit and read them in the Library as much as you like.

Copying

Because some of the books are fragile, there are restrictions on scanning or photocopying them – please ask at the helpdesk.

You are welcome to photograph pages from the Special Collection books, please remember to handle them with care.

What’s in it?

The collection is divided into nine sub-categories to make it easier to browse and research from. To find everything we hold within each category, search Discovery for the keywords “special collection”…and the category name (e.g. “special collection illustrated books”) The categories are explained below.

Special Collection Categories

Special Collection cases in the Library

Artist’s Books

To put it simply, these are books made by artists as artworks in their own right. They usually come in limited editions and may be self-published or produced by small presses. Some of them look very much like traditional books, and some of them really don’t, such as O by Federico D’orazio, an inflatable life-raft contained in a plastic cover, described by the artist as ‘The ultimate relaxing read’ (D’orazio, 2009). Or A ghost story by The Type Shed – a box containing a screwed up, type-written piece of paper.

Search for: “special collection artists books”. Shelfmark numbers start with AB.
Find them in the large Special Collection cabinets numbers 1, 2 & 3 under the windows.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Photobooks

A photobook can be hard to define – it is something more than just a book of photographs. The photographs should create the narrative or message themselves and the book exists as an autonomous piece of art, so it’s not just a catalogue or compilation of the photographer’s work. Photographer John Gossage (2002, quoted in Parr and Badger 2004, p.7) gives these criteria for a photobook, ‘Firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should make the work function as a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with. And finally it should deal with content that sustains an ongoing interest’.

Search for: “special collection photobooks”. Shelfmark numbers start with PB.
Find them in the large Special Collection cabinet number 4 under the windows.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Type Catalogues

Type specimen catalogues were originally created by type foundries or printing companies to demonstrate the typefaces, layouts and printed graphics that they offered to publishers. Now, we use them as an interesting historical record of fonts, layout design, and sometimes the history of the companies themselves. Included in this category is an original typeface specimen brochure marketing Bauer’s new typeface, Futura, designed by Paul Renner in the 1920s, Futura : type of today and tomorrow. (1928).


Search for “special collection type catalogues”. Shelfmark numbers start with TC.
Find them in the large Special Collection cabinets number 5 under the windows.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Special Collection Magazines

Magazines are often ephemeral objects which can suffer from wear and tear over the years, so we keep some of our precious older titles in the Special Collection cabinets. These include Nova (various issues 1969 -1975) and Twen (various issues 1969, 1970), both of which were pioneering in terms of design and subject matter. There are also late sixties / early seventies counterculture publications such as King Ink, Friends, It and Oz – the latter two notable for their psychedelic design. The Special Collection Magazines also include titles that were more recently published but in limited print runs, some of these have interesting but fragile layouts – another reason to keep them safe in the cabinets. The Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of Sabat IV : elements pushes the boundaries of the magazine format with pages switching between large and small and illustrations that fold out into A1 posters. Literary magazine INQUE is published once a year, contains no advertising, has no web version and will stop publication when it reaches ten issues.

Search for: “special collection magazines”. Shelfmark numbers start with MA.
Find them in the large Special Collection cabinets numbers 5 & 6 under the windows.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Book Design

This category contains examples of books that have interesting design features such as format, layout, binding or use of type, and are generally from a limited print-run. The Library holds the fourteen book series Four Corners Familiars in which artists were invited to visually reinterpret a classic book of their choosing. There are also books from Visual Editions, a publisher that created the term ‘visual writing’ to describe books in which the text incorporates visuals – a crossed-out word, different coloured inks, or words die-cut out of the page – to help tell a story. Additionally, there are works by well-known book designers such as Irma Boom and Craig Oldham.

Search for: “special collection book design”. Shelfmark numbers start with BD.
Find them in the small right-hand side Special Collection cabinet number 4.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Illustrated books

Books that are notable for their illustrations, or use illustration in an interesting way.
There are a number of classic ‘Golden Age of Illustration’ (1880s to 1920s) illustrators represented here, with early twentieth century copies of novels like The green lacquer pavilion illustrated by Edmund Dulac (1926) and Comus illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1921). Madman’s drum is a wordless novel by American artist Lynd Ward (1930) using 118 wood-engraved images to tell the story, like an early graphic novel.

Search for: “special collection illustrated books”. Shelfmark numbers start with IB.
Find them in the small right-hand side Special Collection cabinet number 5.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Toy Books

These are books which don’t just have to be read but can be played with in some way. We include pop-up books in this definition.
Broadway Market by Natsko Seki is an eight page book that folds out to become a market square in Hackney – complete with cut-out figures to place around the shops. The Game of Sculpture by Herve Tullet is a board book that allows children to create their own sculptures by popping out shapes and slotting them together.

Search for: “special collection toy books”. Shelfmark numbers start with TB.
Find them in the small right-hand side Special Collection cabinet number 6.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

General Special Collection Books

There are, of course, some books which just don’t fit neatly into our sub-categories. These ones are in a ‘general’ sub-category of their own and include items such as exhibition catalogues, artists’ proofs of hand-printed books, a facsimile of a sketchbook used by John Varley and William Blake, and a boxed set of artists multiples.

Find them in the small left-hand side Special Collection cabinets numbers 1, 2, & 3.

Here are just a few examples, there are more for you to discover:

Resources Used

D’orazio, F. (2009) Best book designs “O” Federico D’Orazio. Available at: https://youtu.be/9PdX4vlquT4?si=M1scxRKHRZRtL_9C (Accessed 18 January 2024).

Parr, M. and Badger, G. (2004) The photobook : a history : volume 1. London : Phaidon.

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