Rare books and special collections

Our substantial rare book and special collections in Jubilee and Hove Library extend to over 50,000 volumes. We have items from the 13th Century through to the 20th Century. Many of these rare books and manuscripts have been donated to our libraries over time. Brighton library first opened to the public in 1873 and Hove in 1908.

We encourage free access to our collections through our online rare books catalogue


View rare books video transcript (PDF 263KB).

Current exhibition - Curious V at Jubilee Library

The 'Curious V' exhibition showcases some of the works in the collection

Items on display include a copy of the world’s first comic book, The Looking Glass, published in 1825 and one of the world’s first pictorial textbooks for children, Visible World, published in 1658.

Other exhibits include Slave Songs of the United States, a 19th century collection of African-American slave songs, recording the daily misery of slavery and dreams of escape and freedom.

Also on show is one of the first books printed and sold by the Kelmscott Press, set up by William Morris. The book, The history of Godefrey of Boloyne, published in 1893, was given to Brighton Library by William Morris’s widow.

The exhibition is on display at Jubilee library. You can find out about other exhibitions on the Jubilee library exhibition page.

What's in our special collections?

An image from one of our rare books

Our special collections span more than seven centuries and include:

  • early printed books
  • illuminated manuscripts
  • splendid examples of fine bindings
  • private press publications
  • first and limited editions
  • early children’s books
  • works with beautiful coloured illustrations, woodcuts and engravings covering subjects from history, literature, and the arts to philosophy, natural history, and theology

Download our Rare Books and Special Collections Guide (PDF 968KB) for more information or search the online rare books catalogue.

Accessing and consulting the rare books

Collections are kept at Jubilee Library, Hove Library and The Keep all with dedicated reading rooms. 

To view items from this collection please take the details, including the call number, from our on-line catalogue and email them to emma.marchant@brighton-hove.gov.uk 
An appointment can then be made for you to view the item.