Treasures of the British Library

Monday to SundayFREE
Art of the Book display case (credit: Tony Antoniou)

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The world's most beautiful and important books and documents, from Magna Carta and Gutenberg's Bible, to the music of the Beatles

The Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery hosts more than 200 beautiful and fascinating items: magnificent hand-painted books from many faiths, maps and views, early printed books, literary, historical, scientific and musical works from over the centuries and around the world. Here are just a few of the objects you can see:

  • Gutenberg's Bible of 1455
  • Magna Carta
  • Codex Sinaiticus
  • Leonardo da Vinci's notebook
  • Handel's Messiah - in the composer's hand
  • Celestial globe, 110cm across
  • Handwritten lyrics by the Beatles
  • Beowulf

Visions of Utopia

Until 18 September 

Visit our free temporary display and discover one of the most influential books in Western literature – Thomas More’s Utopia. Marking the 500th anniversary of its publication, this unique display will look at the context in which More wrote the original Utopia and at different visions and meanings of Utopia up to the present day. Written during the reign of Henry VIII, the book was an instant best seller and has continued to inspire readers, writers and thinkers throughout the centuries.

See close up one of the world’s only surviving original editions of Utopia, an original diplomatic letter to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, signed by More and others and many other precious items.

Visions of Utopia - temporary display at the British Library, credit Tony Antoniou

You may find the Sir John Ritblat Gallery cooler and darker than other areas of the Library. The temperatures in the galleries are maintained at approximately 17-19 degrees centigrade and light levels may be reduced in order to preserve the treasures in our collection. This controlled environment protects any items that may fade, discolour, or be damaged in bright light or humid conditions.We recommend bringing an extra layer, especially in the summer months, when the outside temperature can feel considerably warmer. Please note that photography is not allowed in any of our exhibition spaces. 

What our visitors say on TripAdvisor:

We thought the British Library was just a traditional library with the occasional exhibition, but had a little time to spend before catching our train at Euston. We were amazed at the permanent display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, and astonished to see originals of the Magna Carta, fascinating early books of all types and significant items right up to the present day. There was well written detail and historical context. Not to be missed!

The highlight for us was the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. It houses treasures such as the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, sacred texts from so many religions, all kinds of illustrated manuscripts, early books, music scores. It is all here, at the highest level one could dream of...

Everything from Magna Carta, Korans and Books of Hours and Buddhist & Hindu texts. Musical materials range from Handel to the Beatles including original scores written in the hand of the maestros themselves. Also scientific works - Darwin, Fleming etc. Literature from Dickens, Austen etc. All for free...

Wow! Just an amazing collecting for any book lover to see. From bibles written in 400AD to “the” Alice in Wonderland (the handwritten original that was given to “Alice” the inspiration for the story), to the original lyrics to the Beatles' “Help” as they were scratched out on scrap paper...

There are original sketches and notes of Leonardo da Vinci, works by Shakespeare, song sheets produced by Handel, Mozart and the Beatles and original handwritten letters from the Royal family and other important historical figures...

Note: items are taken off display on a regular basis for conservation reasons and may also be lent to other institutions for exhibition. If you wish to be sure that a particular item is on display, please check in advance. Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7332

Inside the Treasures Gallery at the British Library (credit: Tony Antoniou)


Name: Treasures of the British Library
Where: The Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Show map      How to get to the Library
When: Monday to Sunday
Opening times and visitor information
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546