Introduction to special and named printed collections

A significant part of the Library's rare book holdings, including some of the rarest and most valuable material, has come in as special and named collections. Some of the collections were built up by individual collectors, families, and institutions, often over a long period. Other collections were originally part of the acquisition of a wider collection, which included manuscript and archival material, and subsequently transferred to the printed collections. There is a further category of special and named collections, namely those which have been assembled by the Library itself since its foundation in 1925 from various existing printed collections, and which are added to through new acquisitions to achieve strength in particular subject areas.

Research value

Many of these special and named collections have outstanding research value. They have been kept together as discrete collections within the Library's printed collections. They are named after their former owners and have their own shelfmarks which usually refer back to the former owners. Most of the collections were formed in Scotland or by people with a family or professional connection to the country. They cover a wide range of subjects and include publications from all corners of the world, but with particular strength in western and northern European books.

Early special collections

The formation of the Library's special and named printed collections dates back to 1695, when the 1st Duke of Queensberry presented the library of his youngest son, Lord George Douglas, to the Faculty of Advocates (see Douglas Collection). In the same year the Faculty of Advocates also acquired 45 books which had been formerly owned by the advocate Robert Park (see Park Collection).

Major collections acquired by the Advocates Library

The first major collection of books of a specialised research nature came in 1705, when the Advocates bought the library of numismatic works, along with a coin collection, collected by James Sutherland (1638?-1719) (see Sutherland Collection). It was not until the first quarter of the 19th century that further important large-scale additions began to be made to the collections, beginning with the purchase in 1819 of part of the library of Scandinavian and Icelandic literature, history and philology formed by the Icelandic scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin (see Thorkelin Collection). Other large collections acquired in the 19th century were the Dieterichs collection of German academic dissertations and imprints from the early 16th to the end of the 18th century in 1820 (see Dieterichs Collection), the Spanish books from the library of the Marqueses de Astorga in 1826 (see Astorga Collection), the collection of works on phrenology and secular education assembled by George Combe in around 1868 (see Combe Collection) and John Francis Campbell's collections of Gaelic folklore and poetry in 1885 (see Campbell Collection).

National Library of Scotland's post-1925 acquisitions

The founding of the National Library of Scotland in 1925 resulted in the presentation of a number of collections and individual gifts, most notably the Lauriston Castle Collection (1926) and the Rosebery Collection (1927). The acquisition of these collections substantially increased the holdings of books printed in Scotland and of works of Scottish interest and association. Since then the growth of the Library's research resources and the broadening of its collecting areas have been enriched through the interests of individual collectors and the professional activities of institutions, as reflected in the collections which have been received.

Scope of the directory

There are now over 200 special and named printed collections held in the Library. This directory reveals the diversity of the Library's research holdings of printed material, maps and music (archive and manuscript items associated with individual collections of books are also referred to). Each entry includes information on when and how the collection was acquired and gives information on its scope and content. There is also information on finding aids which are available to provide access to any published information on the collection. Unless otherwise stated, all printed items are catalogued in the Library's catalogue.

Enquiries regarding printed special collections can be sent via e-mail to: