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History of Printing and the Book

Girl with book

Subject Areas Covered

To make it easier to locate material, the Arts, Languages and Literature library uses the Dewey Classification system. This groups together subjects using a numbering system. The subject numbers for printing, book publishing and collecting are :-

010 Book collecting
070.5 Publishing
094 Fine printed books
095 Bindings
096 Fine illustration
096.1 Facsimiles of Illuminated Manuscripts
655 History of Printing / Publishing
686 History of the Book
741.6 Book illustrations

Cosmographia by Ptolemy, 1482 edition

Specialist Material

The Library has a great range of specialist collections including the Early and Fine Printing Collection which 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, originally the libraries of Rev. Thomas Hall (1610-1665) and Rev. Thomas Bray (1656-1730).

The Fine Printing Collection includes an almost complete collection of books and ephemera printed by John Baskerville, the 18th century Birmingham type designer and printer, and books printed by many other famous private presses of the late 1890s to the present day. In addition the William Ridler Collection of Fine Printing was deposited in 1988.

There is an outstanding collection of fine Illustrated Books, many hand-coloured. In addition there are examples of bookbindings ranging from the 15th century to the work of contemporary designers.

How to see rare books from the Early and Fine Printing Collection

Other collections that may be of interest


Other sources of information include

Useful sources of information to help you find the value of a particular book are -

American Book Prices Current
Bookman's Price Index
Book Auction Records upto 1997
Sothebys and Christies Book Sale Catalogues

We produce a guide that lists Antiquarian booksellers, book searchers and book binding services based in the West Midlands.


As well as book material the section takes a range of journals covering a variety of subjects. The following are the printing and book industry journals currently being taken.

Book Collector

Private Library
Rare Books Newsletter

Rare Books Review
(formerly Antiquarian Book Review)
The Library

Suggested Websites: History of Books and Printing

We have compiled a list of web-sites pertinent to the subjects covered in Arts, Languages and Literature section. For reasons of space our choices are very selective. We believe the sites chosen will be useful, reflecting the questions regularly posed by our users.

The list cannot hope to be definitive. We will listen to what people have to say about the chosen sites. We will consider recommendations, and may phase out sites, which are not used or superseded.


Web-site of Advanced Book Exchange. It can be used to locate and buy out of print books at home and abroad by author, title or keyword.


Amazon and Bibliofind web-site will find rare books which can be bought online.


This site is described as the world's leading supplier of hard to find books. It is US based and covers all subject areas.


Online bookshop that has access to 1.2 million titles. It is easy to use and includes the latest literary news, interviews and features.


This British Library website contains comprehensive information about the Library, the scope of its collections, and how to use its services, along with supporting images and appropriate sound samples. The Catalogue of books covers the largest collection in the UK, from earliest times to date. It is useful for tracing details on individual books.


Web-site of the Provincial Bookseller's Fairs Association.


Database of books in different languages, providing online tools for research. Subjects include arts, fictitious characters, genres, periods and movements, imaginary places.

Further Information

Because it is difficult to break down subjects into discrete areas, there is some overlap with subjects held on other floors of the Central Library.

You can find information relating to the technical side of printing in the Science Library, and there is some information relating to Baskerville in the Archives and Heritage Service.

The majority of the material held in the Central Library is for use in the Libraryonly. The exceptions are the Central Lending Library, Music Services, Centre for the Child and the Learning Centre.

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 in the Arts, Languages and Literature section on Floor 3 of Birmingham Central Library. Older or valuable items are held in a closed access store.


All our staff are pleased to help you with your enquiry which can be made in person, via telephone,fax, e-mail or letter. It is always advisable to contact us before you make a special journey.

Please note We are not responsible for the content of other organisations' websites.

Arts, Languages and Literature