Pre-1800 Printed Collections

Gladstone’s Library looks after a collection of approximately 6,500 titles printed before 1800 during the ‘hand press’ era of western printing (c.1450s-1800s).

These include:

  • 11 incunabula (books printed between 1450 and 1501) – These are our earliest printed books. The earliest is our copy of a work entitled Supplementum Summae Pisanellae by Nicholas of Osimo and Bartholomew of San Concordio, printed in Venice in 1476 (MFC/970);
  • 224 sixteenth-century titles;
  • 2,053 seventeenth-century titles;
  • 4,220 eighteenth-century titles.

Our holdings of books from this period cover a wide range of subjects, including our main areas of theology, history, and literature.  The collection is particularly strong in Biblical commentaries, Anglican theology, Christian spirituality, liturgy, history (including church history), and classical studies. 

Named Collections

A large number of our pre-1800 holdings became part of our collections through donations or bequests from significant individuals. The following named collections contain large numbers of our hand-press era items:

  • Cowley Collections
  • Gladstone Foundation Collection
  • Glynne Collection
  • Moorman Franciscan Collection 

Gladstone Foundation Collection

Though our Founder, W.E. Gladstone, did not collect books for their age or rarity, his Foundation Collection does contain 799 titles printed in the hand-press era. This includes:

  • 24 titles printed in the 16th Century;
  • 127 titles printed in the 17th Century;
  • 648 titles printed in the 18th Century.

Among the hand-press titles owned by Gladstone are several notable works, including his copy of the third edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: J. Johnson, 1796, U 44.2/25), containing a prose summary of his thoughts on the book. The collection also includes his well-annotated copy of a 30-volume Oeuvres de M. de Voltaire (Geneva: 1768-1777, Q 24 V/1).

Gladstone’s copy of the Colloquia of Erasmus (Leiden, 1664, I 43/17b) contains a rare instance of Gladstone’s sense of humour. On the front fly leaf, an earlier owner wrote: 'Samuel Powell Purser bought this book on the 11th day of July being Saturday in the year of grace 1840'. Below it, Gladstone has written: ‘and sold it very soon after. WEG.’.

Many of the hand-press items owned by Gladstone also contain his annotations, some with extensive marginalia. Transcriptions of his marginalia are included in the catalogue records of each title on GladCAT – search by author, title, or subject (all of Gladstone’s pre-1800 titles will be listed as held in ‘Closed Access’).

Glynne Collection

The Glynne Collection is the former library of Sir Stephen Glynne (1807-1874), 9th Baronet of Hawarden Castle. He is most remembered now for his collection of ‘church notes’, a series of observations, descriptions, and drawings of the ecclesiastical architecture in almost every English parish (his manuscript notebooks are also held in our archive collections here at the library.

Glynne was a collector of Anglican theological, ecclesiological, spiritual, and doctrinal works throughout his life. His collection contains some of our earliest printed works, such as the Beati of Saint Jerome (1490, Glynne/C/19).

This collection contains 781 titles, and has the shelf-mark ‘Glynne’.

For a complete list, see the following finding aid:

A Bibliography of the Glynne Library, a Collection of Rare Books Dating from the 16th to the 19th Century at St. Deiniol’s Library, compiled by Diana C. MacIntyre (c. 1980).

(A copy of this bibliography is available on request from Library Staff. A digital copy will be made available here later this year.) 

The Cowley Collections

The Cowley Collections are from the former library of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), also known as the ‘Cowley Fathers’ of Oxford. Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915) founded the SSJE, the first Anglican religious community for men since the Reformation in the Anglican Communion, at Cowley, Oxford in 1866.

The collection consisted of approximately 10,000 books when came to the Library in 1980.

It includes two main areas: French Counter-Reformation spirituality, and rare books on Judaism from Father Benson’s personal collection. Other pre-1800 titles that once made up the library of the SSJE were also given to the library in the 1970s and can be identified through either the bookplate and/or the embossed library stamp.

For information on the Cowley Manuscripts, see here.

Cowley French Spirituality Collection

The collection consists of approximately 450 works, including nine from the 17th Century; 99 from the 18th Century; and 306 from the 19th Century.

It also includes 43 volumes of the works of Bossuet as well as an early 18th Century edition of the Opuscules Spirituels of Mme Guyon (Cologne, 1720, Cowley F.S./76a-b).

For a complete list, see: A Bibliography of 1`7th-20th Century Books on French Spirituality at St. Deiniol’s Library, compiled by Pamela Morris and Alison Cotterill, with introduction by Fr. Mark Gibbard, S.S.J.E. (c. 1980). 

Benson Judaica Collection

The 'Benson Judaica' collection of material consists of approximately 70 books on Judaism printed between the 16th and 18th centuries. The books emphasise the importance of the Jewish contribution in the study of the Bible. The collection demonstrates the growth of interest in Hebrew scholarship in Britain, with several English translations of rabbinic works.

For a complete list, see: A Bibliography of Books on Judaism in the Benson Collection at St. Deiniol’s Library, compiled by Pamela Morris, with introduction by N.R.M. de Lange (c.1980).

(A copy of both bibliographies are available on request from Library Staff. Digital copies will be available here later this year.) 

Moorman Franciscan Collection

It is through the bequest of the private library of Bishop R.H. Moorman after his death 1989 that the library acquired some of its earliest print and manuscript items. These items were part of his large private library on Saint Francis and the Franciscan movement, the Bibliotheca Franciscana, commonly known as the Moorman Franciscan Collection. This contains our earliest printed item - Supplementum Summae Pisanellae by Nicholas of Osimo and Bartholomew of San Concordio, printed in Venice in 1476 (MFC/970).

This collection has the shelf-mark ‘MFC’. For information on the Moorman Archive, see here.

For a complete list, see: Saint Francis and the Franciscans: A Bibliography of the Bishop J.R.R. Moorman Franciscan Collection held at St. Deiniol’s Library, compiled by Patricia Williams and D. Geoffrey Lewis, with introductions by Rosalind B. Brooke and Br. Hubert Copinger S.S.F.

(A copy of this is available on request from Library Staff. A digital copy will be made available here later this year.) 

Searching and Finding Out More

All our pre-1800 titles have been catalogued and are available online via MainCAT. Each title is listed as held in ‘Closed Access’. MainCAT arranges search results from newest to oldest titles. All Closed Access titles are likely to be at the end of any search.

To make the most of searching MainCAT, see our guide here.

Typescript Bibliographies of Books Printed Before 1800 were produced in the 1980s, giving full lists of our holdings by subject from this period.

Bibliography of Bibliographies

Volume 1: Biblical Studies and Patristics, compiled by Gordon C. Careless and Pamela Morris, with introduction by Prof. Richard Hanson (1980).

Volume 2: Philosophy and Christian Doctrine, compiled by Gordon C. Careless, with introduction Prof. John Macquarrie (1981).

Volume 3: Life in the Church: Spirituality, Morality, Homiletics, compiled by Gordon C. Careless, with introduction by Alec Vidler, former Warden of St. Deiniol’s (1981).

Volume 4: Liturgical Studies, compiled by Gordon C. Careless, with introduction by G.J. Cuming (1981).

Volume 5: Church History: Part One, The Beginnings to the Reformation, Roman Catholicism in Britain and elsewhere, Continental Protestantism, compiled by Gordon C. Careless, with introduction by Bishop John R.H. Moorman (1981).

Volume 6: Church History: Part Two, The Anglican and Protestant Churches in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, compiled by Pamela Morris, with introduction by Prof. C.W. Dugmore (1981).

Volume 7: European History, compiled by Gordon C. Careless and Pamela Morris, with introduction by Prof. Ivan Roots (n.d., 1981?).

Volume 8: Language and Literature, compiled by Gordon C. Careless, with introduction by George Watson (n.d., 1981?).

Volume 9: Miscellaneous (including Topography and Addenda to Volumes 1-5), compiled by Gordon C. Careless, with introduction by F.W. Ratcliffe (n.d., 1981). 

Digital copies of these bibliographies are currently being produced (from Summer 2019) and will be made available online as soon as each volume is digitised.

Titles printed in the British Isles and North America are also included in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Our holdings are listed under our previous institutional name of St. Deiniol’s Library.

Visit, select ‘Search the ESTC’, then ‘Browse Libraries List’, typing ‘St. Deiniol’ into the search box. This allows you to browse through all pre-1801 holdings in our collections that are listed on the database. 

Using and Requesting our pre-1800 Collection

All our pre-1800 titles can be viewed Monday to Friday, 9.30am – 4.30pm only.

To request an item to view, please fill out a Request to Read Restricted Items form, and return this in person to a member of the library team at the Enquiry Desk, or via email to

Please note we cannot guarantee to fulfil requests to view items if sufficient notice has not been given.

To help us retrieve the item(s) you would like to look at, please include the ‘binder’s title’ of the work (where relevant). This can be found in the ‘notes’ section of the online catalogue record for each item.

While we are very happy for anyone to study our pre-1800 items, we do have some recommended handling guidelines to help look after these titles for the future. Our guidelines on handling items can be found here.

Further Reading

To help you make the most of our pre-1800 collections, particularly if you have never looked at or handled an item from this period before, we recommend the following titles available in our collections:

Gaskell, Phillip. An Introduction to Bibliography. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) U 80.3/GAS

Suarez, M.F.; H.R. Woudhuysen, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Book. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). U 80 SUA/REF

Werner, Sarah. Studying Early Printed Books 1450-1800: A Practical Guide. (New York and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2019). U 80/WER

To search for other titles in our collections on the history of books, reading, and libraries, search for “U 80” (including the quotation marks) for book history, “U 80.1” (manuscripts and illumination), “U 80.2” (authorship), “U 80.3” (book production), “U 80.4” (book illustration), “U 80.5” (book trade), “U 80.6” (libraries and collecting), “U 80.7” (reading practices), “U 80.8” (periodical press), “U 80.9” (reference). 

Prepared by Gary Butler, Assistant Librarian (August 2019)

Food for Thought

Food for thought

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