The State Library has a significant collection of rare Australian and international books. These rare items have been donated or purchased over the years and the Friends of the State Library of South Australia have helped considerably in building this collection. The library also holds many unique 'named' collections of material which have often been donated by the individuals or organisations who developed them. These are listed and described in Named Collections (see tabs above).
What is a rare book?
A rare book may be defined as one which has become a scarce and valued item requiring particular care in both its use and preservation. This may be because of its:
- limited print run
- the number of surviving copies
The collection includes items ranging in age from a 2500 year old clay tablet from the Akkadian dynasty (a list of hats and their owners) up to the present, including a small number of electronic format items. The library aims to maintain a visible and tangible record of the history of civilisation.
Categories for inclusion
- non-South Australian manuscripts
- incunabula - the term applied to books printed by moveable type in Europe before 1501
- items printed anywhere in the world before 1801
- items of Australian interest, and second copies of items of South Australian interest, printed anywhere before 1901
- items printed in a limited edition of 500 copies or fewer
- items over a certain value, adjusted for inflation
- items restricted by law to a limited readership.
Other appropriate items may be included on an individual basis.
All rare book items must be used in the Somerville Reading Room. Please click the link to find out how to get the required Library card.
The birds of Australia - by John Gould published in 1848 in seven volumes and a supplement
Banks' florilegium : a publication in thirty-four parts of seven hundred and thirty-eight copperplate engravings of plants collected on Captain James Cook's first voyage round the world in H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1771
Biblia Sacra - a facsimile edition of Gutenberg's Bible.
Book of Kells - this facsimile edition reproduces the Book of Kells for the first time in its entirety and in full colour.
The Canterbury tales- a leaf from the Knight's tale - from the first published edition printed by William Caxton ca 1477.
Arcana - by George Perry features some of the earliest published sketches of Australian animals by Europeans.
The posthumous papers of the Pickwick Club : containing a faithful record of the perambulations, perils, travels, adventures, and sporting transactions of the corresponding members - a pirate edition of Dickens's novel published in Tasmania in 1838.
Ethiopian manuscript book - Written in Ge'ez, the ancient Ethiopian church language, this well-worn manuscript book contains psalms and hymns from the Old Testament, the Song of Solomon, and prayers to the Virgin Mary. Although it looks mediaeval, the volume is thought to date from the 19th century.
Examples of some of these items, and fine book binding, can be viewed at the Treasures Wall website
Birds of Australia
Pencil and watercolour sketch of Malurus callainus (Splendid Fairy Wren) is by Henry Constantine Richter. Richter was employed by the distinguished British ornithologist John Gould. From The birds of Australia - by John Gould published in 1848 in seven volumes and a supplement.
View more information about this image here. Copies of this image may be made for private research/study. You may order a high quality photographic copy. Any other use requires permission from the State Library of South Australia
Who we are
Phone: +61 08 8207 7250
Fax: +61 08 8207 7247
The State Library is open every day of the week.
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Explore your online world, free internet learning resources - South Australian Government
Rare book related websites
Treasures from the world's great libraries - the website based upon the exhibition held at the National Library Australia during late 2001 and early 2002. It features the State Library of South Australia's own Antiphonal.
Biblio Quest - an Australian website that allows searching of millions of out-of-print books offered by thousands of booksellers all over the world.
Hordern House - a rare books and manuscripts dealer and publisher
Michael Treloar Antiquarian Booksellers - South Australian bookseller
Abebooks - a source for used, rare and out of print and new books