National Library of the Czech Republic

  • our website
  • main catalogue
  • eds katalog
You are here: Home Collections By document type Historical Book Collection Early printed books

Early Printed Books

At present, there are about 200 000 volumes of early printed books, i.e. printed books published between 1501 and 1800, in theholdings of the National Library of the CR, which represent the most numerous part of the historical book holdings of the National Library (during its existence, the official name of the Klementinum library  underwent many changes, mostly it reflected the double character of the library, namely both its function of the university library of Prague University and its public or national role of the main public library in the Czech lands; since the beginning of the 1990s, the name has been settled on The National Library,  to make it simple, this name - abbreviated as NL - will be further used also in relation to the period when the official name of the library was different).

The core of the holding consists of the printed books of the Library of Charles University (the so-called old Carolinum and new Carolinum libraries) and the Jesuit Klementinum College. Immediately after nationalisation of the library in 1777, this base was enriched by many printed books from monasterial libraries abolished during the reforms of Joseph II. The basis for the classification of these holdings was and still remains to be the system of ordering by subject, which was created at the beginning of the 19th century by the important Klementinum librarian Karl Raphael Ungar. He divided the printed books into 54 sections by subject (the shelf mark of each section begins with the section number). A special part is formed by the so-called Biblioteca nationalis, which is "the golden collection" of all NL holdings. It includes the sections 45-54, namely the sections 45-53 contain foreign-language Bohemica, while the section 54 contains early printed books in the Czech language. These sections were continually complemented during the whole 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, some of them, for example the section 54, are still being complemented, therefore only a part of them is formed by early printed books, which amount to ca 10,000 volumes).

Of special importance is the library of the counts Kinsky, the so-called Kinskyana, donated to the NL by the instigator of the nationalisation of university and Jesuit collections Franz Joseph Count Kinsky. This library uses its original shelf marks and contains the family library of the counts Kinsky (Bibliotheca Kinskyana maior), the personal library of Count Franz Joseph (Bibliotheca Kinskyana minor) and his personal library of military literature (Bibliotheca militaris).

The printed books from other sections of Ungar´s system (sections 1-38) contain principally foreign-language non-bohemical literature interesting in terms of the content and typographically and in some respects also in terms of its origin. There are to be found there the library wholes, bequeathed to the Klementinum Jesuit College (e.g. the family library of the Pernsteins, the personal library of Oldřich Desiderius Pruskovský of Pruskov, or the capitular of the Vyšehrad Chapter Pavel Pistorius of Lucko) as well as smaller or greater parts of library wholes (e.g. the family library of the Sternbergs, the personal library of Václav Budovec z Budova, Jan Zajíc of Hasenburg, Václav Vřesovec of Vřesovice, Tycho Brahe and others).

In the course of the library’s existence, the Ungar´s system of division was augmented by other sections. The most important wholes among them are the shelf mark 65 - Prague Lobkowicz Library (purchased in 1928), the shelf mark 72 - The Collection of Magical Literature of Kamill Resler, and the shelf mark 75 - the library of Bernard Bolzano.

In the 1930s a collection of small printed books was formed (broadside ballads and prayers).

In the 1950s the new shelf marks were established (A-H, K-M, W etc.), which also partly include the early printed books. The separate shelf marks were also established for the collection of university dissertations - Diss. and dispute theses - Th. In 1958 the collection of printed Bohemica from the Municipal Library in Zittau was acquired to the NL as a state donation from the German Democratic Republic. In the period of the communist regime, the NL administered many nationalised library holdings, most of which were returned to their original owners after 1989. The books that remained unclaimed and the donations and books transferred from other public institutions form the so-called "reserve collections". These collections have been continuously catalogued since the mid-1990s and together with new accessions they have been allotted the shelf marks S (foreign-language early printed books) and 54 S (Czech-language early printed books).

Jan Andrle

Oct 13, 2017
Facebook Twitter Google+ RSS