The BnF

Rare Books Reserve

Alcools de Guillaume Apollinaire. Illustrator Louis Marcoussis. Mercure de France, 1913
The Rare Books Reserve department holds around 200,000 printed materials. From early printed books to artists’ books, they are selected because they are rare editions or unusual copies: xylographic books and incunabula (books printed before 1501), the output of famous printers, original editions of classic texts, and major printed illustrated works; luxury editions printed on parchment (vellum) or special paper, from renowned owners, many of which are annotated or have remarkable bindings; censored books (the Enfer especially) and clandestine printing; corrected proofs, and mock-ups, archives, and objects illustrating the activities of publishers and bookbinders.
The reading room Y is open to the readers of the Research Library.

Collections of the Rare Books Reserve


Pline, Historia naturalis. Venice. 1472

Pline, Historia naturalis. Venice. 1472

The Rare Book Reserve houses the BnF's most precious printed books, from the beginning of movable-type printing in the 15th century to the most contemporary typographic productions. This collection includes:

  • the first editions of the major texts in western culture;
  • artists' books by French and foreign authors dating back to the late 19th century;
  • a major collection of bindings.
For more info

Rare books

A collection of nearly 10 000 reference books about the history of books and libraries is available in free access in Room Y.


The collections of the Rare Books Reserve are indexed in the Catalogue général de la BnF.

The database of

Reliure à décor particulier pour JB. Châtre de Cangé, vers 1724. Détail.

The database provides access to a selection of digitized bindings belonging to the Rare Book Reserve's collection. It should be regularly enriched in the future. Three search modes are possible: by binding, by workshop and bookbinder, and by owner. The database is provided with essential complements: a bibliography, a glossary and links to major online resources in the field of bookbinding.

BP16 database, containing 16th c. works published in Paris

BP16 database contains 10,000 records from the Bibliographie des éditions parisiennes du 16e siècle compiled from the manuscripts of Philippe Renouard's collection donated to the Bibliothèque nationale in 1952.

History of the department

The Reserve’s origins merge with those of the National Library and the work of one man, Joseph Van Praet, the “guardian of printed materials”, who, in around 1792, undertook to extract rare volumes from the collections of the former Royal Library, which had grown considerably as a result of revolutionary confiscations.

Following two centuries of growth in its premises on rue de Richelieu, the Rare Books Reserve became a department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1995, and was transferred to the François Mitterrand Library (Site François-Mitterrand) when the Library’s collections of printed materials moved there.

The Reserve housed nearly 50 000 volumes when Joseph Van Praet died in 1837. Today, its collection includes nearly 200 000 pieces.

For more info

History of the BnF

Monday, November 7, 2016


Jean-Marc Chatelain
Phone : 33 (0)1 53 79 54 52
Fax : 33 (0)1 53 79 54 60
Email : reserve-livres-rares

For a bibliographic research, use our "Ask a librarian" service, SINDBAD
Ask a librarian (SINDBAD)