Special Collections

Details of some of the library's special collections are outlined below. These can be viewed in the Library by appointment.

Rowe Music Library

The Rowe Music Library, the most important College music library in Cambridge, is the gift of King's member Arthur Cole (KC1901) who bought the collection of the noted bibliophile Louis Thompson Rowe in 1928. Strong in collected editions and reference works, it is particularly rich in English eighteenth-century printed music. Among the many rarities are sixteenth- and seventeenth-century partbooks and manuscripts, a volume of songs engraved by Thomas Cross in a splendid contemporary morocco binding, and a unique group of early Russian printed editions. The collection was further strengthened in 1930 by the addition of around six hundred volumes from the library of the late Arthur Henry Mann, which were presented to the College by his family. Dr Mann had been organist and choirmaster of the College, and was particularly interested in hymn tunes and in the music of Handel. He built up a collection of early editions of both. A sizeable library of Walsh editions, to complement those in the foundation collection, was added in the late 1980s. Notable donations included a small group of sixteenth and seventeenth-century English manuscripts (including the Turpyn Lutebook) given by John Maynard Keynes, and a collection of books about Mozart presented by Alec Hyatt King. The Rowe Music Library is briefly described in The Music Review, XII (1951), pp. 72-77. The books and music printed before 1801 are catalogued in the appropriate volumes of RISM and in BUCEM, and a number of the early manuscripts are described and illustrated in Iain Fenlon (ed.), Cambridge Music Manuscripts 900-1700 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982).

Rare Books

With the exception of the collections listed above, the complete holdings of the College Library are listed in the hand-written and the online catalogue. Rare books are no longer on the open shelves. Many of these are marked in the hand-written catalogue by a red "S". If you wish to see any of them please contact the College Librarian, but you will not be allowed to remove them from the Library or work on them when the staff are not present.

The Library holds a collection of children’s books, mainly from the 19th century, and a collection of English literature first editions, both bequeathed to King’s by the late Dr. George Rylands. In 2005 the College received a generous donation of books from Mr John Bury, mainly focussed on his interests in Renaissance architecture, fortification, and the Grand Tour of Italy and France. The College now has a world-class collection of books in these areas. The process of adding both of these collections to the online catalogue is now complete. Please consult the Library staff for further information.

Medieval Manuscripts

The Library's interleaved and annotated copy of M.R. James's Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts other than Oriental in the Library of King's College, Cambridge may be consulted on application to the Library staff. The manuscripts are housed in the Library, and appointments to see them must be made through the Librarian.

Oriental Manuscripts

The 'Pote Collection' arrived in England from India in 1790 and was divided between the Colleges of Eton and King's, with the first half alphabetically going to King's. It was a gift of Kingsman Edward Ephraim Pote (1750-1832). Both halves of the collection are now housed in Cambridge University Library on permanent loan. Most if not all of the manuscripts had previously been owned by Colonel Antoine-Louis Henri Polier (1741-1795).

E. H. Palmer's Catalogue of the Oriental Manuscripts in King's College Library is in the Reference Bay: 8GN ALV JGT 5VD P Pot/2. They are catalogued online at https://www.fihrist.org.uk/ Please apply to the Manuscripts Room of the University Library to see them. It is not necessary to apply to King's.

Keynes Library

This is J. M. Keynes's collection of rare books illustrating the history of European thought, bequeathed to King's in 1946. It is especially strong in editions of Hume, Newton and Locke, and in sixteenth and seventeenth century literature. About 1300 books in this collection have been catalogued on the online catalogue and can be searched electronically. There is a card index to Keynes's books above the Main Library Author Catalogue. Keynes's collection of manuscripts by Newton, Bentham, John Stuart Mill, etc., are housed in the Modern Archive Centre (see above); arrangements to consult the books should be made with the Librarian.

Fellowship dissertations

These are indexed and housed in the Archive Centre. They are only available on production of a letter signed by the Fellow concerned, allowing access to the dissertation. PhD dissertations are not available in College. They are housed in the Manuscripts Room of the University Library. It is not necessary to produce authorisation to see a PhD dissertation, unless it has been placed on restricted access.

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Donors of rare books to King's Library
George Thackeray
Our ambitious project to catalogue and conserve the English literature section of the Thackeray collection of rare books.
Details of who to contact in the Library and how to get in touch if you are planning to visit as an external researcher.