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Early Printed Books

At present, the holdings of the National Library contain approximately 170,000 volumes of old prints, ie books printed between 1501 and 1800, which thus represent the largest part of the historical book collection.

The core of the collection consists of printed books from the library of colleges from Charles University (the so-called Old Carolingian Library), the library of the Jesuit College in Klementinum and the university library (the so-called New Carolingian Library). In 1777, these library units were merged on the basis of an imperial decree into a Public University Library based in Klementinum. From 1776, the libraries of the abolished Jesuit colleges were also brought to Klementinum, and in the years 1782-1789 also other libraries of monasteries abolished as part of the Josephine reforms. The system of thematic organization, which was created at the beginning of the 19th century, still remains the basis for the classification of these collections. The famous librarian Karel Rafael Ungar (1744-1807) divided the printed books into 54 thematic departments (the shelf mark designation therefore always starts with the department number). A specific part of the historical collection consists of the so-called Bibliotheca nationalis. It consists of departments 45 to 54, while departments 45 to 53 contain foreign-languages, department 54 then linguistically Czech printed books (these departments were continuously supplemented throughout the 19th and 1st half of the 20th century, some, eg department 54 has been constantly being supplemented, with number about 10,000 volumes).

The historical collection also includes several book units. The Kinský Library has a special status, the so-called Kinskyana, which was donated to the library by the initiator of university and Jesuit collections, František Josef, Count Kinský (1739-1805). This library is based on its original shelf marks and consists of the Kinský family library (Bibliotheca Kinskyana maior) and the personal library of Count František Josef (Bibliotheca Kinskyana minor), which includes a collection of military literature (Bibliotheca militaris).

The printed books from other sections of Ungar´s system (sections 1-38) contain principally foreign-language non-bohemical literature interesting in terms of the content and typographically and in some respects also in terms of its origin. There are to be found there the library units, bequeathed to the Klementinum Jesuit College (e.g. the family library of the Pernsteins, the personal library of Oldřich Desiderius Pruskovský of Pruskov, or the capitular of the Vyšehrad Chapter Pavel Pistorius of Lucko) as well as smaller or greater parts of library units (e.g. the family library of the Sternbergs, the personal library of Václav Budovec z Budova, Jan Zajíc of Hasenburg, Václav Vřesovec of Vřesovice, Tycho Brahe and others).

In the course of the library’s existence, the Ungar´s system of division was augmented by other sections. The most important wholes among them are the shelf mark 65 - Prague Lobkowicz Library (purchased in 1928), the shelf mark 72 - The Collection of Magical Literature of Kamill Resler, and the shelf mark 75 - the library of Bernard Bolzano.

In the 1930s a collection of small printed books was formed (broadside ballads and prayers).

In the 1950s the new shelf marks were established (A-H, K-M, W etc.), which also partly include the early printed books. The separate shelf marks were also established for the collection of university dissertations - Diss. and dispute theses - Th. In 1958 the collection of printed Bohemica from the Municipal Library in Zittau was acquired to the NL as a state donation from the German Democratic Republic. In the period of the communist regime, the NL administered many nationalised library holdings, most of which were returned to their original owners after 1989. The books that remained unclaimed and the donations and books transferred from other public institutions form the so-called "reserve collections". These collections have been continuously catalogued since the mid-1990s and together with new accessions they have been allotted the shelf marks S (foreign-language early printed books) and 54 S (Czech-language early printed books).

Tereza Paličková

Feb 03, 2021
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