Collections In Depth

Below you will find information about our different types of collections and how to search them. We also have a series of Collections YouTube videos recorded by our team, and you can find out about some of our unique and exceptional collections in our series of Collections highlights.

Printed/published material: Library catalogue
The Library catalogue contains records for printed books, ephemeral publications and offprints, monograph series, periodical titles, and e-resources (off-site access to subscription e-resources for Fellows only). For access to this material, please contact the Library at [email protected].

William Hamilton’s Campi Phlegræi (1776-1779)

We hold around 100,000 titles dating from the 1470s to the present day. We have a fine collection of around 50 incunables (books printed before 1501), around 2000 broadsides and proclamations c.1500-1900 – many of which are unique surviving copies – and the Lowther Collection of 1700 Civil War Tracts. Our serials holdings comprise of some 3000 titles; around 700 are current, and they include serial publications from antiquarian societies, museums and archaeological organisations across Europe.

Our printed holdings are also in Library Hub Discover (formerly COPAC), and historic holdings are indexed in the ETSC. Over 130 of our unique printed broadsides c.16th-17th century are digitised and available via the EBBA (English Broadside Ballad Archive).

We also have an online version of the Society’s Subject Card Index, searchable by subject heading. This can be useful for searching older periodical literature, as this index (around 570,000 cards) contains references to books and periodical articles accessioned by the Library until 1988.

Archives and manuscripts: Collections catalogue
The Society’s collection of historical manuscripts date from the 10th century onwards. They include Books of Hours, wardrobe and household accounts,  chronicles, inventories, deeds, pedigrees, armorials, devotional books, treatise, and much more besides. A full list of manuscripts can be viewed in the Collections catalogue under the collection code MSS.

Archival collections held by the Society (typically a named collection relating to an individual, such as their correspondence, papers, sketchbooks or notes) each have a three-letter collection code. A full list of all archives can be viewed by clicking the Browse Archive link in the catalogue. Selecting an item from the list will open up the hierarchy for that specific archival collection.

An 18th-century Minute Book

The Society’s own institutional archive has the collection code SAL. This includes the Society’s Minute Books from 1718 onwards (currently undergoing digitisation thanks to a successful fundraising campaign) and correspondence. Please note there is currently no central database with names of historic Fellows; queries relating to former Fellows can be addressed to the Archivist. Work is ongoing to catalogue the internal archive and we do not have indexes for most of the 20th-century records. For all archives and manuscripts enquiries, please contact the Archivist at [email protected].

Prints & Drawings: Collections catalogue (in process of migration from the ADS catalogue) and topographical card index (in the Main Library)

Drawing by William Blake, Westminster Abbey

The Society holds around 20,000 prints and drawings, with the majority dating from the 18th century. Images from the the Society’s volumes of prints & drawings of antiquities (organised and bound in the 19th century) can be viewed online. These volumes are titled: Architectural Remains, Arms & Armour, Britannia Romana, Classical Antiquities, Early Medieval Antiquities, Eastern Antiquities, Instrumenta Ecclesiastica, Personal Ornaments, Primeval Antiquities, Utensils and Furniture.

The bulk of the collection is not searchable online. It is largely topographical (eg. prospects, views, images of historic buildings, churches and castles) and arranged by English county, subdivided into town/village/site. There are very small collections of Welsh, Irish, Scottish and foreign prints & drawings. Library staff can search the card index on your behalf – please contact us at [email protected] if you have queries about prints & drawings.

Museum objects: Collections catalogue (in process of migration from the ADS catalogue) and ArtUK (paintings in Burlington House & Kelmscott Manor)
Records for a selection of museum objects are available to view in the online catalogue with digital images, including paintings, seal casts, coins, medals, and pottery. Only a small amount of the Society’s 40,000 objects are currently searchable online and work is ongoing to catalogue the collection. Included in the museum are brass rubbings (c.10,000, the UK’s largest collection) and an important collection of seal matrices (c.3000). For all museum enquiries please contact the Museum Collections Manager at [email protected]