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Strong Room Rare Books Collection

Apart from the Incunabula and a number of named collections, the bulk of the Strong Room books are divided into three collections, called Strong Room B, C and E.

Strong Room B (c.600 volumes)

English books printed between 1501 and 1640, i.e. STC publications. The earliest English book in the Library  is Andrew Chertsey's The crafte to lyve well and to dye well, printed in 1505 by Wynkyn de Worde and illustrated with many fine woodcuts. There are historical works by Camden, Stow, Holinshed, Grafton and Polydore Vergil, plays by Dekker and Massinger, and literary works by Chaucer, Langland, Jonson, Spenser and Sydney. A large number of early legal works came to the Library in 1848 from the working library of William Blackburn.

Strong Room C (c.1100 volumes)

Foreign books printed between 1501 and 1640. This collection is particularly rich in early medical works, most notably two copies of Vesalius's splendidly illustrated De fabrica (1555), Hans Gersdorff's Feldtbuch der Wundartzney (1530) which contains the first picture of an amputation in a printed work, and what has been called .the most important medical book ever published., William Harvey's account of his discovery of the circulation of the blood, published as De motu cordis in Frankfurt in 1628.

The other great strength is early Italian literature including many rare editions of Dante's Divina Commedia and his lesser works, and works by authors such as Bembo, Petrarch, Ariosto, Boccaccio, Colonna, Giovio, Gelli and Michelangelo.

Strong Room E (c.2,000 volumes)

English and Foreign books printed after 1640 but deemed rare or precious enough to be stored in the Strong Room. Of particular note are first editions of Newton's Principia (1687) and Darwin's Origin of Species (1859). Many of the rare books on botany and zoology contain splendid illustrations, such as Sir James Smith's Natural history of the rarer lepidopterous insects of Georgia (1797) and the gorgeous colour lithographs which adorn John Gould's bird books, A Century of birds . from the Himalaya Mountains (1831-2), A Monograph of the Ramphistidae (1833-35), and A Monograph of the Trogonidae (1835-38).

In the literary field there are plays by Beaumont and Fletcher, poetry by Blake, Byron, Burns, Pope, Milton, Dryden, Aphra Behn and Shelley, as well as novels by Defoe, Trollope and Stendhal. An important modern work is the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, published in Paris in 1922