From incunabula to artists’ books.
The Rare Books Reserve has no thematic role. Spanning all disciplines and periods
, the department holds around 200,000 “exceptional” printed materials
, 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 works; luxury editions printed on parchment (vellum) or special paper, from renowned owners, many of which are annotated or have remarkable bindings; corrected proofs, and mock-ups, archives, and objects illustrating the activities of publishers and bookbinders.
The materials held by the Rare Books Reserve include collections available for consultation on the following topics:
The Reserve also offers a remarkable collection of almost 10,000 open-access reference works, organized according to a topical classification system: bibliographies, history of and contemporary developments in printing, publishing and the art of books (paper, typography, illustration, and binding), the dissemination of texts (including in particular the history of censorship), and collections and sales of rare books.
To be noted
The Rare Books Reserve’s collections may be consulted in room Y on the basis of a reasoned request
; their release is subject to authorization by the reading room’s chief librarian.
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.