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Welcome to birmingham.gov.uk

Arts and Literature Collections

The collections have been built up over a number of years by a combination of donations and library purchase. Many contain works which are quite rare. Below is an introduction to each of the collections. For more information please follow the links. These collections can now be found in the Library of Birmingham

Sir Barry Jackson and Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archives

The archives of Birmingham Repertory Theatre include the prompt books, programmes, photographs of productions and of individuals, press cuttings, personal correspondence of Sir Barry Jackson and business correspondence of the theatre, play texts and criticism from Sir Barry Jacksons own library.


There are works by and about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the Spanish novelist and creator of Don Quixote. It contains a good selection of early and illustrated editions and now numbers about 1,300 volumes. The collection includes books, periodicals, translations in a number of languages and bibliographies and catalogues in Spanish and English.

Early and Fine Printing Collection

The Early and Fine Printing Collection contains over 8,000 books printed before 1701.The Early Printing Collection includes a splendid collection of early atlases donated by W.A.Cadbury and two local parish libraries on deposit from Kings Norton and Sheldon. The Fine Printing Collection includes an almost complete collection of books and examples of ephemera printed by John Baskerville.

Johnson Collection

The Johnson Collection was formed to celebrate the association of Dr Samuel Johnson with Birmingham and now numbers about 2000 volumes of works by Johnson and books and periodicals about him. It includes almost all the first editions, such as the Dictionary, 1755, as well as a good range of later editions and critical works from the 18th century to the present date.


The Milton Collection was built around a core collection of about 160 volumes, presented to Birmingham Free Libraries by Frank Wright, a local politician, in 1882. It now contains about 1,500 volumes of works by and about the poet, John Milton including a number of early books and pamphlets, finely illustrated and private press editions of Milton works and books and periodicals about Milton.

The Parker Collection of Children's Books

The original collection was based upon the acquisitions of Mr and Mrs J.F. Parker of Tickenhill Manor near Bewdley who collected children's books published from 1830 to the end of the nineteenth Century . The Library's Head of Children's Services added a considerable number of school and adventure stories to the collection. Many finely illustrated fairy tales and other illustrated children's books were transferred to the collection and it now contains books dating from 1538 to the present day. The

Parker Collection of Children's Games also contains some interesting examples from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Birmingham Shakespeare Library
Birmingham has one of the world's best collections of works by and about Shakespeare. It was founded in 1864 by members of the local Shakespeare Club during celebrations to mark the quarter centenary of Shakespeare's birth. The aim, as stated by George Dawson, President of the Club, was to build a collection containing as far as practicable "every edition and every translation of Shakespeare, all the commentators, good, bad and indifferent, in short, every book connected with the life and works of our great poet. I would add portraits of Shakespeare and all the pictures etc. illustrative of his work."

War Poetry Collection

The War Poetry Collection was originally presented to Birmingham Central Library in 1921 in memory of Private William John Billington of the 2/24 Regiment, who was killed in action in Palestine in March 1918. The donor, William John Cross of Rubery, had assembled an unrivalled collection. It contained 1,233 printed books in English, French, Italian and other languages of the British and Allied Nations, consisting mainly of First World War poetry, written by both soldier poets and civilians. Since 1921 many additions have been made to the Collection.

Exhibition Catalogues

The collection was first started in the 1970's by the newly established Fine Arts Department to add to the Arts Council publications already taken. It now contains over 23,000 items which are continually being added to. An exhibition catalogue can be a single page to over 400.

The Oberammergau Passion Play Festival Collection

The collection was donated by John Ashe, and consists of books, pamphlets, playscripts, postcards, illustrations and audiotapes relating to the Passion Play performed by the villagers at Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps. The play has been performed there, with only two interruptions, every ten years since 1634 in fulfilment of a vow made after the village was spared an epidemic of plague.

How to access the collections

These collections are all kept in a closed access store in the Library of Birmingham and for some of the material it may be necessary to arrange an appointment to look at these items. More information is provided on the relevant collection page.

You can use the online Library Catalogue to help you locate material. Some items published before 1973 or that are in the Collections may not be listed in the online catalogue.

Most of the current material is available for browsing on the shelves. Older or valuable items are held in a closed access store and can be made available on request.

As some items held in the store are valuable you will be asked to provide proof of your name and address. To consult certain particularly rare and valuable items you will need to book an appointment.

All our staff are pleased to help you with your enquiry which can be made in