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Special Collections Books

Artists’ Books

Special Collections holds over 600 British and international artists’ books, a format broadly defined as books created with the intention of holding the status of a work of art, often in a limited edition or hand-made format. Artists represented include Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Ed Ruscha and Dieter Roth. In addition, as part of the Royal College of Art archive, Graphic Design and Illustration archive and Printmaking archive, Special Collections holds a number of books produced by RCA staff and students, including work by Catrin Morgan, Tim O’Riley, Dick Jewell, Christiane Baumgartner and Nigel Rolfe. Cataloguing in progress; inventory available on request.

Colour Reference Library

The Colour Reference Library (CRL) is one of the largest collections of published material on colour anywhere in the world. Numbering over 1,600 books, together with pamphlets, press cuttings and archival material, it spans six centuries of study and supports multiple approaches to the subject. Major colour theorists and systems are represented alongside more obscure figures and ephemeral material. The Colour Reference Library has dedicated pages on the RCA website here. Books may be searched on the main Library catalogue

For more detail, visit the Colour Reference Library page.

Lion and Unicorn Press Books

A complete set of 40 books published under the College’s Lion and Unicorn Press imprint. The Lion and Unicorn Press (1952–84) was an initiative of Professor Richard Guyatt and his newly formed Graphic Design school, and allowed staff and students to design collectable, limited-edition books for sale to subscribers. Over the course of its life, books by David Hockney, John Piper and Quentin Blake were published, while classic works from Chaucer to Bodoni were re-issued with imaginative designs. The project allowed students to gain experience in book production and provided an opportunity for experimentation with different techniques in binding and printing. One of the most celebrated publications was Captain Cook’s Florilegium (1971), an atlas-sized (24x18 inches) book with engravings of plant specimens collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific islands. These were printed for the first time from the original copper plates, loaned to the College by the neighbouring Natural History Museum. The Royal College of Art archive contains a series of papers related to the administration of the press.

John Minton Books

A collection of books and periodicals with cover designs and/or internal illustrations by John Minton (1917–57), Painting tutor at the RCA (1949–56). Books include Minton’s own Time Was Away (1948), H E Bates’s The Country Heart (1949) and John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957). Periodicals include individual issues of The Strand, Lilliput, The London Magazine and others.

Other Special Collections books

Around 700 books have been transferred from main Library stock to Special Collections on account of their age, complexity or fragility. These include nineteenth-century series on architecture and botany, but there is no particular subject specialisation. Popular materials range from catalogues of the Great Exhibition (1851) to publications on taxidermy, to fragile or loose-leaf materials from the twentieth century such as Live in Your Head (Kunsthalle Bern, 2006) and Fluxus (A, 1979). Partial runs of periodicals in unusual formats, including Fuse (1991–7) and Visionaire (1990s, 2000s), are also included. Books are listed on the main Library catalogue.

Silvie Turner papermaking Collection

A collection of 83 books, pamphlets, catalogues and samples covering the history and techniques of papermaking around the world, acquired from Silvie Turner, printmaking scholar and associate of the Printmaking programme. Many of the unique or ephemeral books were collected during the period 1970–95 as research for the publications Handmade Paper Today (Lund Humphries, 1983) and The Book of Fine Paper (Thames & Hudson, 1998). The formally published books have been catalogued and may be found on the Library catalogue. Ephemeral material may be browsed on site by appointment.

Visit our dedicated page to find out more about Special Collections access, location and appointments.


+44 (0)20 7590 4234

[email protected]

Please note, access to the collections is by appointment only.