Special Collections

The Special Collections Archive is held at Exeter Library and kept in The Cage, a specially designed secure room within Exeter Stack, constructed in the late 1970s. 

The Special Collections Archive consists of early printed books ranging in date from 1480 to c.1900. Keeping these collections adds depth and breadth to Devon Libraries’ existing stock and preserves these rare and unique items for future generations, as well as assisting readers of all ages with their learning and information needs.

Exeter Library has a programme of exhibitions throughout the year to showcase and promote the Special Collections Archive. 

Access to the Collections

Items from the Special Collections may be viewed by appointment only. For any enquiries, or to make an appointment, please email or telephone 01392 407022. Library staff reserve the right to supervise viewings if deemed appropriate. 

Adopt a Book

Help support vital conservation work in Exeter Library’s Special Collections Archive, protecting Exeter’s heritage for future generations. 
Find out more about Exeter Library's conservation work and how to Adopt a Book, great for yourself or as a gift.

Devon Collection of Children's Books

This collection of children’s books contains about 2,000 items, mainly dating from before 1940. They were built up over a period of time by bequest, donation and purchase and, as such, do not represent any significant individual collection. The titles to 1850 have a detailed listing by the noted children’s book historian Marjorie Moon (1908-1996) which is available to view in the library.

Rare and Early Printed Books

This collection has been built up by Exeter Library since the 1870s by donation, bequest and purchase. Much material was destroyed in the 1942 Blitz but many donations were received immediately after the war. The collection has not been added to significantly since the 1960s when special collections were normally acquired by the University of Exeter Library. There are about 1,500 items with good coverage of English topography, biography, political history, law, numismatics and herbals.

Pocknell Collection

A collection of shorthand books bequeathed to Exeter Library by Edward Pocknell, a professional shorthand writer and deviser of the Legible Shorthand System.


Exeter Library holds long runs of many famous eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals including: The Gentleman’s Magazine, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Country Life and Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. In addition, the collection is particularly strong in the areas of art and architecture, with considerable holdings of titles such as Graphic, The Art Journal, Art Union and The Architectural Review.

Collected Works

Exeter Library holds a considerable collection of Collected Works including: The Life and Works of Charles Lamb, the Kirriemuir Edition of The Works of J.M. Barrie and The Works of John Ruskin.

N.B Photocopying and Photography
Library staff must be consulted before any photocopies are made of material from the Special Collections Archive, and may refuse to copy any item deemed too fragile, too tightly bound or where they would infringe copyright.
Photography is allowed for personal use only, with the permission of library staff.


My Account

Other Collections

The Railway Studies Collection at the Passmore Edwards Centre in Newton Abbot, consists of over 60,000 images and thousands of books and pamphlets and is the second largest collection of railway material in the country.

Visit the collection website here.

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Supported by

Devon County Council Arts Council England Torbay Council Exeter Live Better

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Libraries Unlimited

Libraries in Devon are run by Libraries Unlimited

Bringing ideas, imagination, creativity and knowledge to enrich people’s lives and build thriving communities.

Libraries Unlimited South West, a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Registered company number: 9822597. Registered charity number:1170092. Registered office: Exeter Library, Castle Street, Exeter, Devon , EX4 3PQ.