What is a rare book?

We call books rare if they are:

  • Printed before 1850
  • Only known to exist in a few copies
  • Found to have important manuscript annotations or marks of former ownership (provenance)
  • In very fine or contemporary condition, e.g. in an original binding
  • Part of a named special collection, e.g. from the personal library of a notable collector

Why are rare books important?

Rare books provide the raw material for research work. If you are working on a historical topic, rare books can give you precious information about early texts and textual transmission. People also use rare books for what they tell us about their former owners and readers. They are also a source for striking images. We keep and collect rare books to safeguard our heritage and to promote the development of new ideas about the past. Many of the books in our collections have never been studied properly and there are countless discoveries waiting to be made.

Click for online Rare books and manuscripts

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Manuscripts Online

Digitized Manuscripts: British Library’s digitization projects



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