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A view of Trinity's Old Library from the south, with a stained glass window at the end.

Trinity's

Special Collections

Historic

Libraries

Trinity’s historic collections continue to play an integral role in college life. The library team makes its early printed books available for research, teaching, exhibitions and talks. Antiquarian cataloguing work reveals ever more about our rare books, and our annual conservation programme ensures the books continue to be preserved for future generations.

Details of most books can be found on SOLO and researchers are invited to contact the College Librarian, Emma Sillett for enquiries.

COVID RESTRICTIONS: Until further notice, the Old Library and Danson Library are closed to all visitors. Email enquiries are still welcome, and wherever possible, photographs of relevant books will be supplied. 

Old Library

Founded by the Benedictine monks of Durham Cathedral Priory over 600 years ago, the Old Library is steeped in history. Although little except the exterior stonework remains from the medieval period, visitors can admire seventeenth-century shelves where the books were once chained and the historically significant stained glass windows.

The early printed book collection has grown over the centuries primarily through donations, starting with 75 printed books from college founder Thomas Pope and now numbering around 6,000 volumes. The books date from the late fifteenth century and the library holds particular riches in classics, theology, history and geographical texts. Former book owners include Henry VIII, and the Old Library counts Samuel Johnson and Cardinal John Henry Newman among its former readers. International researchers still make use of the collections today.

Danson Library

The Danson Library houses books collected by three generations of the Danson family and bequeathed to the college in 1976. John Towne Danson (1817-1898), Francis Chatillon Danson (1855-1926) and Trinity alumnus Lt.-Col. John Raymond (Ray) Danson (1893-1976) amassed an impressive collection of illustrated books, illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, important early printed books from the 16th-18th centuries and a small number of modern first editions. Their library also contains approximately 450 volumes of erotica, some of considerable rarity. The Danson Erotica Collection annotated catalogue is now available online: Danson Erotica Collection

The Danson Library was extensively refurbished in 2010-11 to provide better shelving for the Danson collection and several other bequests, including antiquarian books from the estate of Edgar Wind, late Professor of the History of Art; Faber art books from the De La Mare family; 18th century French books from Professor Russell Egdell, and the Chadwyck-Healey Bible collection, as well as individual gifts. 

Manuscripts

The college is fortunate to possess a manuscript collection dating from the tenth century to the sixteenth century, and ranging in origin from the Low Countries to Byzantium. Among their varied contents are theological works, mathematical textbooks and literary texts such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. 

Details of our Western pre-Reformation manuscripts can be found in Richard Gameson (2018) The Medieval Manuscripts of Trinity College, Oxford: A Descriptive Catalogue. Selected descriptions contain groundbreaking pigment analysis using Raman spectroscopy and multispectral imaging, revealing the practices of different artists and suggesting the relative expense invested in each manuscript.

These manuscripts, together with a small selection of post-medieval manuscripts and Eastern manuscripts, are held at the Bodleian’s Weston Library. Information on booking an appointment can be found on the Bodleian’s website. For other enquiries, please contact the College Librarian, Emma Sillett.