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English Civil War: Thomason Tracts

Diurnall Occurrences

Diurnall Occurrences ... from the 13. of Decemb. to the 20. of the same. 1641 (London, 1641). British Library, E.201.(3.). Copyright © The British Library Board

 Scope of the Collection

The collection consists of over 22,000 printed items, bound in 2,000 volumes: not only are many now unique, but these copies also offer extra evidence in the form of Thomason's own annotations with publication dates and attributions of authorship.

The news pamphlets and newsbooks, which number over 7,200 and form just one part of the collection, provide detailed accounts of battles, negotiations, and political machinations.

 History of the Collection and its Collector

Among the British Library's unrivalled collections for the study of British history are the Thomason Tracts, one of the most important sources relating to the turbulent period of the English Civil War in the mid-17th century. These are a vast collection of printed pamphlets, books, and newspapers, printed mainly in London between 1640 and 1661, originally brought together by George Thomason, an important London bookseller and the friend of John Milton (1608-1674)

Thomason was extremely well placed to build up a systematic collection of pamphlets and other works as they were published. Often these items, relating in the main to the most burning religious controversies and political conflicts of the day, have survived nowhere else.

Thomason himself appreciated the significance of his collection: his will emphasised the efforts and money that had been expended and the unparalleled scope and size of the collection. During the 1650s, the tracts were moved several times for safe-keeping and in the years following Thomason's death in 1666, various attempts were made to sell the collection to the University of Oxford, to the nation, and to several of the wealthiest private collectors of the 18th century. All of these attempts failed, mainly because of the high price being demanded, and for almost a century this vast collection remained inaccessible, in private hands, ignored and neglected by historians. It was not until 1762 that the pamphlets were finally sold to the Earl of Bute, acting on behalf of the young King George III, who presented them to the British Museum, thus securing them for future generations of historians.


Although the 7,200 or so news pamphlets and newsbooks in the collection (one of which is displayed above) form part of the newspaper foundation collections of the British Museum Library, the Thomason Tracts collection is kept together in its entirety, and thus held at St Pancras.

Much of the material is now fragile and the original pamphlets are restricted from general Reading Room use. Full digital facsimiles are now available via Early English Books Online (EEBO) which is accessible onsite at St Pancras. A complete set of preservation microfilms also exists (shelfmark Mic.B.58) and reels can be ordered at St Pancras only from on-site storage. Microfilms of the broadside materials (shelfmark: 669.f.3-27) are kept on the open shelves in the Rare books and Music Reading room. Bound photocopies (shelfmark: Thomason RAX E. + number) can also be ordered at St Pancras from on-site storage. Staff at the Rare Books Reference Enquiries Desk can advise about this. In 1977, University Microfilms International of Ann Arbor, Michigan, published a microfilm edition of the collection under the title The Thomason Tracts, 1640-1661. This microfilm series is often held by larger research libraries.


The two-volume catalogue, [G.K. Fortescue assisted by R.F. Sharp, R.A. Streatfield, and W.A. Marsden], Catalogue of the Pamphlets, Books, Newspapers, and Manuscripts Relating to the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and Restoration, Collected by George Thomason, 1640-1661, 2 vols. (London: British Museum, 1908), is held on the open shelves of the Newspaper Library Reading Room.

The catalogue of the microfilm edition, The Thomason Tracts 1640-1661: An Index to the Microfilm Edition of the Thomason Collection of the British Library (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1978- ), is available in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room in St Pancras at shelfmark RAM094.20941 BL, and in the Humanities Reading Room in St Pancras at HLR942.01.


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