Robert Boyle's  Signature
A library was established at New College’s foundation in 1379.

Antiquarian Collections

Today New College Library holds c. 30,000 pre-1850 volumes, including c. 340 incunabula (fifteenth-century European imprints) and c. 560 STC books (British Isles imprints and English books printed abroad up to 1640).  The Library’s printed books purchased or given since the early days of printing have survived in large numbers, particularly in law, theology, the classics, early medicine, and science.

Explore our Antiquarian Gallery to view some of the visual highlights of our rare book collections.  An account of New College’s history since the College’s foundation in 1379 is also available.

Notable among the Library’s extensive early printed book collections are:

  • Twenty-five printed books bequeathed by Cardinal Pole (1500-1558), the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, which had belonged to the Belgian humanist, Christopher Longolius (1488-1522);
  • Thirty volumes bequeathed by Thomas Martin (1520/1-1592/3), including French translations of Thucydides, Livy, and Aristotle;
  • Medical and scientific books, among others, bequeathed by Walter Bailey (c. 1529-1592), Regius Professor of Medicine;
  • C. 400 medical books given in 1617 by Thomas Hopper (d. 1624);
  • C. 500 volumes, mainly contemporary theology, given in 1617 by Arthur Lake (1569-1626), Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Warden of New College, 1613-1616;
  • A general scholarly library of c. 170 items bequeathed by Robert Pinke (1573-1647), Warden of New College, 1617-1647;
  • A general collection of c. 600 volumes bequeathed in 1675 by Michael Woodward (1602-1675), Warden of New College, 1658-1675;
  • C. fifty books on numismatics, mostly bequeathed by Philip Barton (1694 or 1695-1765), Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, 1733-1765;
  • C. 140 seventeenth-century imprints of the scientist, Robert Boyle (1627-1691), some given in 1776 by Martin Wall (1747-1824), Litchfield Professor of Clinical Medicine;
  • The bequest of Edward Charles Wickham (1834-1910), Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, strong in classical literature.

Early Printed Books Catalogues and Finding Aids

All of our early imprints have been catalogued and can be searched via our catalogue, SOLO.  Catalogue entries for our antiquarian material have copy-specific notes (i.e. information about provenance, binding, imperfections, and other details), and these are continually updated as more information comes to light.

Relevant early printed holdings of New College Library within the scope of the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) can also be found via this union catalogue (items published between 1473 and 1800, mostly in English and mainly published within the British Isles and North America).

New College Library’s exceptionally fine collection of incunabula is included within the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue  (ISTC).  Almost all New College Library’s incunables are also helpfully listed in: Dennis E. Rhodes, A Catalogue of Incunabula in all the Libraries of Oxford University outside the Bodleian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982).  Many of the Library’s incunables are included within the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, which provides greater detail about copies than the ISTC but is currently less comprehensive in its coverage.  Work is also in progress to create entries for the Library’s incunables in the Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) database, a project which enables tracking of the movement of books across Europe and through the centuries.  (Guidance on how to search the MEI database is available.)   

Manuscripts Collections

The Library is fortunate to hold as many as c. 400 medieval manuscripts.  Indeed, New College Library, of all Oxford’s medieval colleges, has the largest collection of manuscript books remaining in situ.  The College’s founder, William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester gave nearly 250 manuscript books, covering theology, philosophy, canon law, and civil law, of which about thirty survive.  Most of the Library’s manuscripts are in Latin or Greek but the wide range of languages covered by our manuscript holdings also includes: Arabic, Armenian, Burmese, Dutch, English, French, Hebrew, and Syriac.  Explore our Manuscripts Gallery to view some of our remarkable manuscript treasures.

New College Library’s manuscript holdings include:

  • Eleventh- and twelfth-century, illuminated Biblical and prophetic texts in Greek;
  • The celebrated, early thirteenth-century de Brailes Psalter, known as the “New College Psalter” - the most elaborate surviving example of the work of manuscript artist, William de Brailes (fl. 1230-60), as well as another thirteenth-century illuminated Psalter, written at St Alban’s Abbey;
  • An early fourteenth-century, illuminated Anglo-Norman prose translation of the Apocalypse of St John, of sumptuous artistry - the “New College Apocalypse”, also known as the “Bohun Apocalypse”;
  • A fifteenth-century illustrated manuscript of the Qu’ran;
  • A fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript of Confessio Amantis, the great Middle English poem by John Gower (c. 1330-1408), and another fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript of perhaps the greatest Middle English literary text, The Canterbury Tales by Gower’s friend, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400);
  • Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Dutch, Flemish, and French Books of Hours;
  • An annal for 1515 by the Poet Laureate, Bernard André (1450-1522), presented as a New Year’s gift to King Henry VIII;
  • An incomplete Latin translation by King Henry VIII’s librarian, Wouter Deleen (c. 1500-1563) of Hermann von Wied’s Einfältiges Bedenken (1543), bound together with a copy of the same German printed book in a volume intended for the King’s library and bearing the King’s coat of arms;
  • Tudor wardrobe warrants, issued principally by King Edward VI and Queen Mary I between 1550 and 1558, including extraordinary rarities: two signed by Lady Jane Grey, as Queen Jane;
  • The Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) papers, four volumes of largely theological and historical manuscripts, which came to the Library in 1872. 

Manuscripts Catalogues and Finding Aids

It should be noted that manuscripts cannot be listed on SOLO.  Most of New College Library’s medieval manuscripts, however, are listed in: H.O. Coxe, Catalogus codicum MSS. qui in collegiis aulisque Oxoniensibus hodie adservantur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1852).  This catalogue is out-dated and incomplete, but an online version of Coxe’s Catalogus codicum MSS. Collegii Novi does provide a helpful, if brief and partial, searchable guide to most of the Library’s manuscript holdings.

Illuminated manuscripts held in New College Library are also described briefly, with some information about illuminators, scribes, and provenance, in: J.J.G. Alexander and Elźbieta Temple, Illuminated Manuscripts in Oxford College Libraries, the University Archives and the Taylor Institution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985). 

A comprehensive new catalogue of our manuscripts is currently being compiled, and sample entries are available to be viewed.

Access

All enquiries about pre-1850 books and manuscripts should be made to the Librarian:

Dr Christopher Skelton-Foord
Librarian
New College
University of Oxford
Holywell Street
Oxford  OX1 3BN
UK

As none of this material is stored in the main library, unfortunately “same-day” service is not possible.  Access to these volumes will be by appointment only.