From books in chains to historical manuscripts

Did you know our oldest archival document is a 12th century charter of Henry II? Discover our fascinating and surprising collections.

By University of Reading Special Collections

Ledgers from Huntley and Palmer archiveOriginal Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

... we have 40,000 rare books and 5km of archives? 

The tradition of acquiring special material is as old as the University, the bequest of the Overstone Library in 1920 setting a pattern. The collecting of manuscripts and archives began in a systematic way in the 1960s, and from the start has been dominated by the programme to collect and manage British publishers’ archives.

Example of a book from a chained library by Abingdon 1Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

...that some libraries used to chain their books to their shelves? 

This one is from the 16th century and was once part of the library held in Abingdon Parish Church. Chains would be long enough to allow the book to be read, but not removed from the library. 

Charter of Henry II to the abbey of St Sauveur-Le-Vicomte (from the 1100s)Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

...our oldest archival document is a 12th century charter of Henry II? 

This charter of Henry II to the Abbey of St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte, was issued at Westminster sometime between 1155 and 1158. We also hold a fine collection of illuminated manuscripts and Books of Hours. 

Petrus de Crescentius, Ruralia commoda, 1471 (1471) by Crescenzi, Pietro de', ca. 1233-ca. 1320.Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections: Printing Collection

Did you know...

... the oldest printed book in our collections is Petrus Crescentius’ Ruralia Commodia

A manual on agriculture, this copy was printed in 1471. This makes it an 
'incunable', meaning a book that was printed before 1501.

Ephemera from John and Griselda Lewis Collection, being used in a teaching sessionOriginal Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

... that as well as books and archive material, we also hold a vast collection of historic ephemera?

Ephemera is a word used to describe material designed to be kept only for a short time, or discarded. This example is from our John & Griselda Lewis collection of 20,000 items.

Cover of 'The Secret Rose' by W. B. Yeats (1897) by Yeats, W. B., 1865-1939Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections: Reserve Collection

Did you know...?

... we hold over 500 works by and about W.B. Yeats? The works on Yeats are held in our Donald Gordon collection and our Reserve Collections.

This edition of his poems was designed by Althea Gyles (1867-1949), whose papers we also hold as MSS 148, 150-9, and 1163

Correspondence from George Bell and Sons ArchiveOriginal Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

... we are home to the The Archive of British Publishing and Printing

It contains records of 30 different publishing companies as well as collections from individuals related to the history of publishing. This image shows correspondence from our George Bell and Sons Archive.

Cover of 'The Song and the Shadow' by Sophie Cole (1938) by Cole, Sophie, 1862-1947.Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

...our Mills & Boon collection contains the editorial correspondence of John Boon and Alan Boon, script registers, publicity material and thousands of books from 1910-2008?

Sophie Cole wrote the first romance fiction title published by Mills & Boon, Arrows from the dark in 1909.

A display of the medieval Caxton leaf, found in the Griselda and Lewis Collection in the University of Reading Special Collections. (1476)Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

... an example of a 15th century printed text by English printer William Caxton was unearthed in one of our collections?

Found in the John & Griselda Lewis collection, the pages are from a medieval priest's handbook dating back to late 1476 or early 1477. It is completely unique.

Student looking at The grammar of ornament by Owen Jones in the Reading Room (1856) by Jones, Owen, 1809-1874.Original Source: University of Reading Special Collections

Did you know...?

... the work of Owen Jones (1809-1874), one of the most influential design theorists of his time, can be found throughout our collections? 

Jones designed the backs of playing cards for De La Rue, designed Huntley & Palmers' trademark garter and buckle, was the Superintendent of Works for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and published his design masterpiece The Grammar of Ornament in 1856.

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Discover more

Explore our key collections, or browse an A-Z list of our collections. Search for collections via our catalogue. We would love to hear from if you would like to get in touch



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Discover our digital content, from our online exhibitions to our blogTwitter and Instagram accounts. Search all of our collections from home using our catalogue


Visit our Reading Room 

Visit us and you will receive a warm welcome at University of Reading Special Collections.
Our collections are available to view in our pleasant Reading Room, which is open to all.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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