Dome levels 4 and 5 will be closed to the public from Monday 13 May to Friday 24 May. Visit our refreshed World of the Book exhibition from Saturday 25 May.

The John Emmerson Collection

The John Emmerson Collection of rare books includes more than 5000 items bound in 3500 volumes. One of the world’s largest collections of rare British printed works, it features books and pamphlets from the 15th to 18th centuries, mostly produced in England.

The collection has a particular emphasis on the reign of King Charles I and the English Civil War, fought during the 1640s. The only comparable collections belong to the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Spanning political, religious, philosophical and literary works, the collection is a rich resource for historians and literary scholars. Its significance lies not just in the sheer quantity and quality of the books, but also in the important provenance of items, including works originally owned by significant figures at the time of Charles I’s reign.

Highlights include:

  • The collected writings of King James I, printed in 1616, and given to his son Charles, then Prince of Wales, who would later become King Charles I. The copy is cased in a personalised binding.
  • A 1485 bible printed in Nuremburg. The copy belonged to William Juxon (1582–1663), Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, and is signed by him.
  • A bound volume of the illustrated news sheet Mercurius Civicus Londons Intelligencer, covering the early years of the English Civil War from 1643 to 1646. Published weekly, it is considered the first major city newspaper.
  • Early editions of literary greats including John Milton’s Paradise lost, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels and Laurence Sterne’s The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, along with editions of works by John Dryden, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Daniel Defoe.
  • A vast number of pamphlets and tracts printed and circulated during the English Civil War of the 1640s.

The John Emmerson Collection was amassed over 40 years by the late John McLaren Emmerson QC (1938–2014), a bibliophile and brilliant scholar who had careers as both an Oxford physicist and a Melbourne barrister. His family generously donated the collection to the State Library in 2015.

Explore the Library's online exhibition, Beyond the Book: A Digital Journey through the Treasures of the Emmerson Collection.