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British Printed Collections, 1801-1914

Our collection of 19th-century British printed materials reflect every aspect of this most exciting and innovative period of book production and publishing. Recent estimates indicate in excess of one million separate items.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, photographed by J.J.E. Mayall for the first issue of The Queen, 7 Sept. 1861. Location: BL Newspapers. © The British Library Board

The great richness of these collections is based upon material received by legal deposit under the Copyright Acts. All subjects and genres are represented. These copyright collections are also supplemented by a continuous and active acquisitions programme.

In recent years, systematic purchasing has extended the holdings of pre-1815 and provincial imprints, ephemera, and cheap publications (especially fiction), trade literature, private press materials, and subjects such as cookery and the applied arts.

An online exhibition about the book in the Victorian era is  available through the "Aspects of the Victorian Book" website. The team is also working on an illustrated database describing books printed from 1839 to 1914 which contain original photographs

The Library's holdings of 19th-century periodicals and newspapers are now the focus of an AHRC-funded project to produce a searchable full-text digital edition of six diverse serials. The Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition project is a partnership between the British Library, Birkbeck College, King's College London, and Olive Software Inc.


Particular strengths among the copyright collections include: literature, biography, theology, politics, children's books (especially from the second half of the 19th century), topography and travel, and early photographic literature.

Important special collections, purchased and donated, include:

Specialist Catalogues

British printed materials from 1801 to 1914 are recorded in Explore the British Library. They can also be found by searching a printed edition of the catalogue: more information about these is given on the page Catalogues of Early Printed Materials in the British Library. In addition, material from this period appears in the following specialist catalogue:

  • The Ashley Library : a catalogue of printed books, manuscripts and autograph letters collected by T.J. Wise, 11 vols. (London: Printed for Private Circulation, 1922-1936).
    Copy in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at shelfmark RAR820.16 (annotated with BL shelfmarks).

Materials in the British Library also form the basis of:

  • The Nineteenth Century Short-Title Catalogue (NSTC):
    Series I & II, covering the period 1801-1870, available in printed book form (62 vols.), on CD-ROM, and as an online database.
    Series III, covering the period 1871-1919, available on CD-ROM and as an online database.
    The British Library provides access to the NSTC online database from any Electronic Resources computer in either the Rare Books and Music or the Humanities Reading Rooms. Copies of the printed volumes for 1801-1870 can be found on the open shelves in the Humanities Reading Room.

Selected items from the British Library's collections are also appear in the microfiche series The Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey) [British Library set at: Mic.F.348].


British Printed Collections 1801-1914
Early Printed Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7604 / 7699
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7577