The pre-1800 collections at All Souls are rich in almost every subject. The original strength of the collection, as for many institutions founded before 1500, was in Roman and canon law, theology, and medical works. When the Library out-grew the Old Library (now used for lectures), and the building of the new Library was complete, the collection became much more diverse.

Many of the books came from bequests or donations from fellows. The largest was left by Christopher Codrington, known for his ownership of plantations in the Caribbean: the College is working on addressing and contextualizing this legacy. Other contributions, together with some judicious purchasing, created a rich collection including works on classics, science, travel, architecture, philosophy and literature.

All books printed before c.1850 have been fully catalogued onto SOLO (the University’s union catalogue of printed books). Each record includes both full bibliographical description (including references, pagination/foliation, subject headings and additional notes where required for clarity), and copy specific information (including notes relating to imperfections, binding descriptions, and provenance information).

Researchers wishing to consult the early printed collections should contact the Library at least a week in advance of the date they wish to visit. Not only do books need to be retrieved from a range of storage areas, but a seat needs to be reserved in an increasingly busy reading room. Appointments can be requested between 10am and 12 noon, and between 2pm and 6pm during full term (between 10am and 12 noon, and between 2pm and 4pm during vacations). Full days and multiple appointments can also be booked. Please see our opening hours for Library closure dates.

Please note that researchers are not permitted to take their own photographs of special collections materials, but images can be supplied of specific pages, sections, or complete works (if the condition of the original allows for this).

If the condition of the book allows, images can be requested for private research, as well as supplied either in lieu of a visit, or as a conservation measure to reduce the handling of fragile materials. For complete works, images will be uploaded to the Library’s website; specific pages may also be requested. For very large orders, it may be necessary to apply fees, but in most cases there is no charge for this service. Under current circumstances, with some staff still working from home, please give as much notice as possible if images are required by a specific date. Images may also be requested for publication, though, at present, it may not be possible to supply images at high resolution; please contact the Library to discuss requirements. All images should be requested via the Image Request Form.

Digitised Early Printed Books

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