Rare Book and Special Collections

Old Library Collections

Queens’ Old Library’s outstanding collection of early printed books comprises numerous donations of varying size and significance from former Fellows as well as purchases made by the College during the course of its history.  As well as documenting over 500 years of intellectual life at Queens’, the collection's development reflects the College’s position in the world of learning during that time. We see this in the influence on the collection exerted by the presence of the Humanist scholar Erasmus at Queens’ in 1506 and again in 1510-15. Several books previously owned by Erasmus colleagues can be identified in the collection, the earliest being a copy of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament translation, which had been the property of his friend John Lasky. Bound in a contemporary Polish binding with his initials J. L., this highly significant publication is rarely found in British libraries. In addition to Humanist texts, Queens’ also holds extensive and valuable collections of the 17th and 18th centuries. Listed below are some principal components of the Old Library collection.

  • Thomas Smith (1513–1577) English scholar and diplomat.  c. 70 humanistic texts, representing one of the greatest single collections from the library of one individual now extant for Renaissance England.
  • Humphrey Tyndall, President of the College (1579 – 1614).  58 volumes ‘all his folios which the library had not’.
  • Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon  (1586-1643),  the prominent literary patron . 102 volumes, 1612-3.
  • John Smith, Cambridge Platonist and Queens’ fellow (1644-52). Books on history, geography and travel, medicine, theology and Rabbinical writings, mathematics and astronomy.
  • David Hughes, Queens’ fellow  (1727 – 1777). Collection of c. 2000 pamphlets and books on wide range of subjects, mostly 18th-century but some older.
  • Isaac Milner, Queens’ President (1788 – 1820); Lucasian Professor of Mathematics and a close friend of William Wilberforce. C. 3000 pamphlets and books.  Strengths include church and Methodist movements of the 18th and early 19th centuries, key works of the 16th century Protestant Reformation; 18th-century European mathematics.

More detailed information on the content and development of Queens’ Old Library collections will be available in Clare Sargent’s  forthcoming monograph on The records of Queens’ College Library, Cambridge to be published shortly as part of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society Monograph Series. This webpage will be updated, both in the light of Clare Sargent’s research, and of discoveries made during the course of our ongoing cataloguing of the collection.

20th-Century Special Collections

  • JM Cohen Collection of books, pamphlets and other material.  Cohen built his collection out of gifts from the authors or purchases made during visits to Spain and Argentina in the 1950s and to Mexico and Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s. It includes signed copies of works by writers of the first Cuban revolutionary generation; works by women, most of which were previously unrecorded in the West; an extensive collection of Soviet Russian literature; and studies on literary criticism and poetry, the pre-Columbian American past and Nahuatl literature.
  • Robert Hatch Kennett Collection: Old Testament and Semitic texts given in 1932. It is now housed in the library of the University's Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, to which all enquiries should be addressed.
  • Members' Archive.  Works by Fellows and past Fellows of the College, and (mostly literary works) of current and former members. Details of more recent publications form the core of an electronic database that will eventually be accessible from the College web site.  Old members who would like their monographs to be added to this catalogue are welcome to send bibliographic details to the College Librarian.