Ponce Roffet's printer's device, Paris, 1545

Printed Books and Rare Books

  • 600 000 volumes
  • Early printed books: about 180,000 volumes, including 2,400 incunabula
  • Periodicals: 2,650 titles, of which 650 are current and about 200 pre-1800


Early printed books

When Cardinal Mazarin's private library (close to 30,000 volumes in 1661) was transferred to the Collège des Quatre-Nations, it remained encyclopaedic and accessible to scholars. Divided into broad fields (theology; humanities and literature; jurisprudence; philosophy, science and the arts; medicine and natural history; history including geography, archaeological antiquities, biographies and bibliography), the printed book collection also included a few sections of books that were rare or curious in some way, such as publications by the Imprimerie du Louvre, oriental books or heretical works in all languages. It was extended by an exchange with the Royal Library, in 1668, then through a policy of regular acquisitions, and by 1789 it neared 60,000 volumes. The collections were more than doubled by documents taken during the Revolution from libraries confiscated from ecclesiastical institutions (monasteries, chapters, universities and colleges), private mansions or palaces, mainly in Paris and Île-de-France, but also after French military campaigns in Germany and present-day Belgium. Some of these books were entered in the traditional classification system, which was abandoned in the mid nineteenth century.   

Since the nineteenth century, the printed book collection has developed mainly though gifts and bequests of private libraries, often on a particular theme (see: Special Collections).

Modern printed books

Extended by ministerial despatches until the mid twentieth century, purchases and gifts (see: Special Collections), attribution of legal deposit copies from 1925, the contemporary collections have gradually focused on the historical sciences:

  • History and civilisation from the Middle Ages and the Modern era (political, religious, social, literary, cultural and art history);
  • Local and regional French history (legal deposit);
  • History of the book and libraries;
  • Auxiliary sciences of history, in particular genealogy and heraldry.

These specialties are now the pillars of the Library's policy, structuring the development of its collections of monographs and periodicals.