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Overview of Special Collections

The collections range in date from the fifteenth century to the present day and in subject from human anatomy to Modern Greek poetry. The largest collection, the FCO Historical Collection, comprises material from the former library of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, transferred to King’s in 2007, and contains over 80,000 items. Topics covered in depth by this collection include: exploration, discovery and travel; war and cold war; diplomacy and peace-keeping; the growth, rule and decline of empires; colonial emigration and settlement; the growth and abolition of the Atlantic slave trade; trade, transport and communication; anthropology and natural history.

Many of these areas of strength are complemented in our other collections, such as the Rare Books Collection and the Marsden Collection. William Marsden (1754-1836) worked for the East India Company in Sumatra before joining the staff of the Admiralty, where he rose to the post of First Secretary. A great linguistic scholar and collector, he built up an important library of works on travel and languages. This collection contains a number of extremely rare Bibles, including what may be a unique surviving copy of the Book of Genesis in the Algonquin language, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1655.

The history of Germany in the twentieth century is a notable strength of our collections. The libraries of HG Adler and Gert-Joachim Glaessner explore Hitler’s Germany and East Germany (1945-90), respectively, while the Cohn Collection provides in-depth coverage of the legal systems of German-speaking Europe in the twentieth century.

We also have a wealth of medical material in our collections and hold the historical library collections of the constituent medical schools of the College – St. Thomas’s, Guy’s and King’s – as well as that of the Institute of Psychiatry, reflecting the College’s long and illustrious tradition of medical teaching and research.

A significant amount of medical material can be found in some of our other collections, such as the Early Science Collection and the Rare Books Collection. The FCO Historical Collection also holds works on tropical medicine and public health administration in the former British Empire.

Cover of The Manchester Evening Chronicle Household Medical Adviser, 1900

The Foyle Special Collections Library has also submitted 2,000 items from its medical collections to the UK Medical Heritage Library project.

This project involved ten research libraries in the UK and is focused on the history of medicine and related disciplines in the 19th and early 20th century. For more information please see our Online resources page, and the links below to the items digitised in the project.

UKMHL project homepage

Items submitted to the project from King's


The Rare Books Collection holds some 12,000 printed books ranging from a 1483 Venice printing of Silius Italicus’s Punica to first editions of the novels of Charles Dickens and the Left Book Club’s 1937 edition of Orwell’s The road to Wigan Pier, while the Early Science Collection’s holdings span the scientific achievements of the period 1801-1914, from Darwin to railway construction and from botany to cookery.

We also hold a number of other important scientific collections such as: the Wheatstone Collection, the former library of Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875), pioneer of the electric telegraph; the De Beer Collection, which contains books, journals and pamphlets collected by Sir Gavin De Beer relating to Charles Darwin and evolution; the Stebbing Collection, the former library of the Rev. Thomas Roscoe Reed Stebbing (1835-1926), covering natural history in general but with a strong emphasis on marine invertebrates; the Ruggles Gates Collection which consists of the books and pamphlets of Professor Reginald Ruggles Gates (1882-1962), geneticist and botanist and is strong in anthropology, eugenics, genetics.

Literary collections include the Adam Collection, the former library of the literary journalist Miron Grindea (1909-95), who founded the Adam International Review; this contains copies of their works inscribed to Grindea by such major literary and artistic figures as Samuel Beckett, Marc Chagall and T.S. Eliot.

King's College London is traditionally strong in theology as an academic discipline and collections held at the Foyle Special Collections Library reflect the College's history and traditional strength in this area. The Library has extensive theological collections, including many Bibles, liturgical works, prayer-books, hymnals and works on sacred music, ranging in date from the late fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Important theological collections include the Box Collection, the former library of Canon George Herbert Box (1869-1933), which is strong in Judaica, Biblical history, Biblical commentary, and the languages, literature and history of the Middle East; the Rainbow Collection, part of the former library of Dr. Bernarr Rainbow (1914-1998), which contains Christian and Jewish hymnals and devotional music, the Ratcliff Collection, the former library of Canon Edward Craddock Ratcliff (1896-1967), former Professor of Liturgical Theology at King's, which is strong in the areas of Christian liturgy and Church history; the Relton Collection, the former library of Herbert Maurice Relton (1882-1971), former Professor of Dogmatic Theology at King's, the focus of which is on Christian dogmatic theology and ecclesiastical history.

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