Early printed copies of classical texts

Constantine Lascaris, Erotemata
Constantine Lascaris, Erotemata, with the Latin translation of Johannes Crastonus Placentinus. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1495

Our collection of incunabula (15th-century printed books) is the largest in the world. Many of these books contain early printed editions of classical texts.

About the collection

The printing revolution of the 15th century enabled the reproduction of classical texts on a much larger scale than had previously been possible. The printing house of Aldus Manutius in Venice was noteworthy for its production of editions of the Greek classics. The British Library’s collection of incunabula (15th-century books produced with moveable type) is unrivalled in size and scope: some 12,500 incunabula representing about 10,390 editions, out of an estimated total of surviving 28,000 editions.

What is available online?

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, a database of 15th-century European printing which records nearly every separate 15th-century item printed from moveable type, is housed and maintained at the British Library.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Incunabula can be ordered to the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Special permission may be required to view some items.

How to guides

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

How to handle folded items

Find out how you should hand items like large maps and book inserts.

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Guide to researching provenance of books now in the British Library

Where do the British Library’s old printed books ‘come from'? Who owned or read them in centuries past? Why does it matter?

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services

Terms of use for Google Books

This page states the terms and conditions surrounding the British Library’s out of copyright books which have been digitised by Google.

How to request items not in the catalogue

You can use 'Request Other Items' to order items which have no record in Explore the British Library. Also to order most items found in Expore Archives and Manuscripts.

Guide to the British National Bibliography

A guide to help you use the British National Bibliography catalogue, covering: login, search, and how to manage your results

Guide to Explore the British Library

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to order/view items

What collection items can I view online?

You can see books, manuscripts, maps, playbills, scores and much more. Researchers can use our collection of electronic resources and databases to help them find material relevant to their research.

Can I take photographs of British Library material myself?

You can take photos of our collection items yourself in British Library Reading Rooms

Can I copy material in the Reading Rooms?

What you need to know about copying British Library collections in our Reading Rooms

How to handle books

See the techniques you should use to keep our books in good shape.

How to handle rolled items

We show how you should unroll items like scrolls, rolls and maps.

Using gloves with books and manuscripts

Should you wear gloves? Here's some advice to help you decide.

Breaches of British Library Reading Room Conditions of Use

These guidelines outline the British Library’s policies and procedures with regard to breaches of its Reading Room Conditions of Use. They are to ensure consistency in the actions taken in response to such breaches and to define the appropriate roles and responsibilities in the process.

Electronic resources

We collect thousands of electronic journals, books and websites and hundreds of databases. You need to come to the Library to access the majority of these resources.