French printed collections

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe from Paris et les parisiens au XIX siècle (Paris: Morizot, 1856)

Our collections of French printed material includes rare early printed material, books, journals, maps and music.

About the collection

Highlights of the French printed collections include:

  • the ‘Recueil de farces du British Museum’ in 64 volumes
  • the Mazarinades Collection (about  5,000 pamphlets relating to the Fronde ,1648-1653)
  • two sets of Diderot’s Encyclopédie
  • a collection of 50,000 French Revolutionary Tracts (books, pamphlets and serials published between 1780 and 1820)
  • a collection relating to Jean-Paul Marat.

The collection includes hundreds of volumes in the regional languages of France. We also hold a collection of newspapers and ephemera from the 1848 Revolution, collections of caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871), and of posters and ephemera from the First World War.

We continue to acquire contemporary material in French in most subjects in the humanities and social sciences. It is a feature of the British Library’s collecting policy that it offers simultaneous access to material in English, French and other languages.

What is available online?

As a result of mass digitisation projects, in particular the ongoing British Library Google Books digitisation project, access to a growing number of French out-of-copyright digitised books is available free of charge. To find them search Explore the British Library and then refine your result list by Access Options: Online.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The British Library's online catalogue, Explore the British Library, can be used to search for French printed material and order it to a Reading Room.

Most post-1850 French printed materials can be ordered to any Reading Room, usually within 70 minutes, although much of our more recent material is held at our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire and may take up to 48 hours to arrive.

Pre-1850 materials can be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room, while newspapers, maps and manuscripts are available in their own respective Reading Rooms. All the reading rooms have some reference works on the open-access shelves, including bibliographies, catalogues, dictionaries and general reference works.

A number of key electronic databases for French Studies are also available at the British Library. For licensing reasons, most of these may be accessed only from the Library’s reading rooms. Resources include Cairn.Info, Frantext, the Encyclopédie de Diderot and D’Alembert, Electronic Enlightenment, and the MLA. Staff are available to offer bibliographic and other basic research assistance.