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Birmingham Central Library

Address. Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3HQ [Map]
Telephone. (0121) 303-4511
Fax. (0121) 233-4458

Governing body or responsible institution. Birmingham City Council
Functions. Public Reference and Community Lending Library service.
Subjects. All subjects.

Access. Open to all. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (Appointment needed for early and fine printed material and research assistance.)
Special facilities. Photocopiers, microform readers and printers, video recorders, tape cassettes, photography by arrangement, photocopying by permission.
Travel directions. Nearest mainline station: New Street Birmingham (c. 10 minutes walk). Buses to Birmingham City Centre. - Municipal car parks within walking distance.


1.1 The free public service in Birmingham was inaugurated in 1861 funded by municipal rates. The Central Reference Library was opened in 1866 with the stated principles (1) that the library should, as far as practicable, represent every phase of human thought, and every variety of opinion, (2) that books of permanent value and of standard interest should form the principal portion of this library, (3) that it should contain those rare and costly works which are generally out of the reach of individual students and collectors and which are not usually found in provincial or private libraries.

1.2 The Birmingham Shakespeare Library was founded by the local Shakespeare Club in 1864 to mark the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth. The Cervantes Collection was presented by William Bragge (1823-1884) in 1873. The Central Library was burnt down 1879 and the majority of the stock was destroyed. The new Reference and Lending Library building opened in 1882 with replenished stock including many gifts. The Shakespeare and Cervantes Collections were refounded, and the original volumes for a Milton Collection were presented by Frank Wright (1853-1922).

1.3 By 1900 the Reference Library had a stock of over 150,000 vols and by 1911 there were 21 lending libraries around the city. Notable donations during the early years of the 20th century were two major photographic collections, that of Sir Benjamin Stone of over 22,000 photographs of topographical and international interest and the 6,600 photographs of the local Warwickshire Photographic Survey. In 1915 the Matthew Boulton and James Watt Archive was presented by George Tangye. This has recently been augmented by the purchase of the James Watt Papers. In 1920 the nucleus of the War Poetry Collection was presented anonymously in memory of a private soldier. In 1927 a bequest by J. R. Holliday (1840-1927) gave the library a collection of incunabula and fine private press printed books to augment its own collections. The donation of 34 early geographic works and atlases by W. A. Cadbury (1867-1957) during the 1920s and 1930s further enriched the collections. The Commercial and Patents Library was opened in 1919, and the Technical Library in 1924. An Archive Service has existed throughout the library's history but in 1960 the library was designated an official Diocesan Register Office. The Library also has an outstanding local history collection.

1.4 In 1960 Mr and Mrs F. J. Parker of Tickenhill Folk Museum, Bewdley, presented their collection of early children's books. The Railway Collection based on material relating to the Great Western Railway was bequeathed by Roger Burdett Wilson. The Francis Frith and the Francis Bedford photographic collections augmented the photographic archive in the mid 1980s. The archives of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, one of the first repertory theatres in the country, were recently deposited in the library. In 1973 the library moved into its present new central library building, with its reference departments divided into broad subject divisions. The Centre for the Child was opened in 1995 as a children's library and a centre for information about child care in all its aspects. The Libraries and Learning Service in Birmingham is now part of the Department of Leisure and Community Services providing a reference and lending library service to Birmingham and region.


2.1 The printed reference collections comprise over a million vols. The majority of the stock is in English, although a high proportion of the earlier material is in Latin and a smaller proportion of the earlier material is in French, German and Italian. A small proportion of the 18th and 19th-century stock is in German and French. The most important collections for German language or German imprint items of interest are the following.

Birmingham Shakespeare Library

2.2 The collection comprises Shakespeare editions and criticism, British and foreign; music, theatre production material, including 18th and 19th-century scrapbooks of illustrations, playbills, 20th-century photographs, programmes, playbills, production reviews, videos, tapes and recordings. There are about 45,000 published works in the collection which contains material in 93 languages, the German holdings being the largest section apart from the English language material. It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of German language material, particularly pre-1901 holdings. Excluding bound pamphlets, a shelf count estimates about 1,500 German translations or adaptations of Shakespeare's plays and about 900 German language criticisms. One of the strengths of the German language section is the large amount of ephemeral pamphlet material it contains, much dating from the 19th century. It is difficult to estimate the number of items, but there are about 50 bound volumes containing translations and adaptations of Shakespeare's plays in German and 173 bound volumes containing German language criticism.

German editions

2.3 The earliest German edition in the collection is Michael Kongehl, Der Unschuldig-beschuldigten Innocentien Unschuld (Königsberg, c. 1680), a play closely related to Much Ado About Nothing and Cymbeline. The collection includes the influential first translation of Shakespeare's plays into German prose by Wieland, 22 plays published in Zürich in 1762-1766, revised and supplemented by Johann Joachim Eschenburg, 1775-1777. The set lacks vols 3 and 10, but is complete in the 1778-1783 edition. The collection also contains the translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel, 16 texts published between 1797 and 1801, completed in 1825-1833 by Johann Ludwig and Dorothea Tieck and Wolf Heinrich Graf Baudissin.

2.4 There are about 80 18th-century editions or acting adaptations, reflecting the growing German interest in Shakespeare at that time, some with frontispiece showing German actors. These include several of the late 18th-century acting editions by the actor-director Friedrich Ludwig Schröder for the Hamburg Theatre. Other 18th-century acting editions are Kleopatra und Antonius adapted by Cornelius Hermann von Ayrenhoff, in Sämmtliche Werke (Vienna and Leipzig 1789), Julius Caesar für die Mannheimer Bühne (1785) and some unusual adaptations, for example Johann Friedrich Schink's Prinz Hamlet von Dannemark, Marionettenspiel (Berlin 1800), and Karl Ludwig Gieseke's Der Travestirte Hamlet, Eine Burleske in Deutschen Knittelversen mit Arien und Chören (Vienna 1798). There is also an unusual adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, set in Vienna; Die Bezähmte Widerbellerin oder Gasner der Zweite nach Shakespeare frey bearbeitet von Schinck (Munich: aus dem Farfustl Hoftheater 1783). There are four German translations by F. J. Fischer for the Prager Theater; Der Kaufmann von Venedig (Prag 1777), Macbeth (Prag 1777), Richard der Zweyte (Prag 1778) and Timon von Athen (Prag 1778). There are also examples of 18th-century text versions of plays published in Germany; Hamlet (Göttingen 1784), Othello (Göttingen 1766), and Romeo and Juliet (Gera 1792) with German notes by Carl Benedict Ku(e)chler.

2.5 Early translations of the less well-known plays include Die Irrungen, Ein Lustspiel nach dem Shakespear, translated by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Grossmann (Frankfurt 1777), Johann, Konig von England (Altona 1796), Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, Amor vincit omnia, Ein Stuck von Shakespearn (Leipzig 1774), and Gottfried August Bürger, Die lustigen Weiber zu Windsor (Göttingen 1786). Among translations of attributed plays are Christian Felix Weisse, Eduard der Dritte (Leipzig 1759) and attributed plays translated by Tieck (Leipzig 1823-1829, 1836), which include Leben und Tod des Thomas Cromwell; Ernst Ortlepp's translations of attributed plays, Nachträge zu Shakespeare's Werken (Stuttgart 1840), with fine copperplate illustrations, and two English language editions; Pseudo-Shakespere'sche Dramen, ed. by Nicolaus Delius (Elberfeld 1854-1874) and Karl Warnke and Ludwig Ernst Adolph Proescholdt's Pseudo-Shakespearean Plays (Halle 1883-1888). This includes plays such as the Comedie of Faire Em.

2.6 There are some interesting early musical adaptations: Piramo e Tisbe. Intermezzo tragico a tre voci (Dresden 1775); an 18th-century musical play by Carl Alexander Herklots based on The Merry Wives of Windsor with music by Mozart's rival Antonio Salieri, Arien und Gesänge zu dem komischen Singspiel: Falstaff. Die Musik von Salieri (Berlin 1799) and three operatic versions of The Tempest dating from 1798. There are also numerous operatic versions of the plays dating from the 19th century. The earliest German version of the Poems in the collection is a parallel English and German text, Venus und Adonis; Tarquin und Lukrezia. Aus dem Englischen übersetzt (Halle 1783).

German criticism

2.7 There are about 30 pre-1800 German criticisms and related works, the most important early item being an edition of Saxo Grammaticus, Danica historia (Frankfurt: ex officiana A. Wecheli 1576), the source for Hamlet. Also of interest is the Almanac Généalogique pour 1779 (Berlin c. 1779), containing illustrations to Hamlet, some possibly indicating staging. Among the extensive collection of German Hamlet criticisms is Christian Garve, Über den Charakter Hamlets (1796); a Theater-Kalender for 1780 containing a list of Hamlets; Deutsche Hamlets, with commentary; Holländische Bühne und Holländischer Hamlet and, by the anonymous M., Über die Aufführung des Hamlet. Nach A. W. Schlegels Übersetzung (1799). There is also a copy of Schlegel's appreciation of Shakespeare and Gryphius, Vergleichung Shakespears und Grypks [sic] (Werke, Bd 3, Leipzig 1763-1773). Voltaire's Lettres écrites de Londres sur les Anglois (Frankfurt 1735) contain some of his earliest Shakespeare criticism. Eschenburg the translator also commented on the Ireland forgeries: Über den vorgeblichen Fund Shakespearischer Handschriften (Leipzig 1797). His earlier commentary on Shakespeare, Ueber Shakespeare (Zürich 1787), is also available.

2.8 The collection includes several 18th-century lives of Shakespeare and appreciations of the recent translations into German: Johann Gottfried Herder, Shakespear, in Von Deutscher Art und Kunst (Hamburg 1773), Leben des Wilhelm Shakespear, in Der Brittische Plutarch (1765), Eschenburg's translation of Elizabeth Montague's Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, Shakespeares Genie und Schriften (Leipzig 1771), the translator and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel's Etwas über Shakespeare bey Gelegenheit Wilhelm Meisters, in Die Horen (Tübingen 1796) and Carl Hagena's Berichtigungen der Schlegel-Tieckschen Übersetzung des Shakespear (c. 1790). There is a first edition of the statement on storm and stress, by the dramatist Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz rejecting French classicism in favour of Shakespearean naturalism: Anmerkungen übers Theater (Leipzig 1774). There are also reprints of 17th-century German plays, including German versions of the plays performed by 17th-century English strolling players in Albert Cohn's Shakespeare in Germany in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (London 1864).

2.9 Among the numerous 19th-century editions and criticism should be mentioned the unique memorial Album: German Shakespearians in science, literature and art, 109 photographic portraits of German Shakespeare scholars with a commemorative binding depicting the Stratford Shakespeare Monument, presented to the Birmingham Shakespeare Library by Professor Leo of Berlin, 1878, in commemoration of the generous gifts presented to the library by German scholarship after the fire. The Library holds a complete set of the Shakespeare Jahrbuch (Weimar 1865 ff.) and also publications and catalogues of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft Library. There are also some 19th-century illustrated editions in the collection, for example A Midsummer Night's Dream illustrated by Julius Hoeppner (London: Ernest Nister 1889), the colour illustrations printed in Nuremberg, and Shakespeare Galerie, Text von Friedrich Pecht (Leipzig 1876), with illustrations by Max Adamo, Heinrich Hofmann, Hans Makart, Friedrich Pecht and Friedrich Schwoerer. Some 19th-century photographs and illustrations of German productions can be found in the Forrest Collection, a set of 76 scrapbook volumes added to the library in 1890. It is not indexed by country or language.

The Early and Fine Printing Collection

2.10 The Early and Fine Printing Collection contains over 8,200 books printed before 1701, some in original bindings, with c. 2,900 fine printed books, mostly the work of private presses, c. 430 fine bindings dating from 1701, and c. 1220 finely illustrated books, notably hand-coloured aquatints and lithographs of the 18th and 19th centuries. The early printed books include two parish libraries, namely the library of the Rev. Thomas Hall (1601-1665), The Kings Norton Parish Library deposited in Birmingham Central Library in 1892 containing c. 1,140 titles and the library of the Rev. Thomas Bray (1656-1730), the Sheldon Parish Library, deposited in 1960 containing c. 370 books. A collection of German books purchased in 1942 included fine German private press books of the early 20th century. The William Ridler Collection of Fine Printing was deposited on loan from Dr Ann Ridler in 1988, containing about 3,500 items from the 20th century, mainly English, with some American and European examples.


2.11 The Early and Fine Printed Collection includes 128 incunabula of which 52 were printed in Germany or German speaking countries and 3 are in German. The most common imprints are Basel (13), Augsburg (10), Cologne (8), Nuremberg (8) and Strasbourg (8) with Mainz (2) and single examples from Ulm, Esslingen and Reutlingen. Titles include: Ptolemy, Cosmographia (Ulm: Lienhart Holle 1482), with hand-coloured maps, donated by W. A. Cadbury in 1932, the Biblia latina printed by Anton Koberger at Nuremberg, both the 1478 and 1480 editions, and the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493). Rarer items include Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea sanctorum (Reutlingen: Johann Otmar, 1485), Cyrillus, Das Buch der natürlichen Weiszheit (Augsburg: Anton Sorg 1490), with woodcuts, in contemporary binding and the spurious Ovid, Trium puellarum liber (Cologne: Cornelis de Zieriksee c. 1500) in the library of Thomas Hall, the Kings Norton Parish Library, on deposit in Birmingham Central Library. All titles have been reported to the British Library for inclusion in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

16th and 17th-century books

2.12 No analysis has been made of the 16th and 17th-century holdings by language or place of publication, although it can be estimated that about 200 items were printed in Germany or German speaking countries with about 10 per cent in the German language. They are of miscellaneous subjects including a good proportion of theology and some classical texts, ancient and European history and ancient languages, with all texts predominantly in Latin. Of particular interest are atlases, illustrated books, works by Luther, German translations and scientific and natural history books.

2.13 Atlases, Illustrated books. The collection of early atlases given by W. A. Cadbury includes fine Germanic editions of Ptolemy's Geographia, notably the 1513 and 1520 editions printed by J. Schott in Strasbourg, the former in gilt-tooled Venetian binding, and the 1522 and 1525 editions printed by J. Grueninger also of Strasbourg, as well as several later editions printed in Basel. There is a set of the plates and text of Braun and Hoghenberg, Civitates orbis terrarum (Cologne 1572-1618). Illustrated books include the Theuerdanck (Nuremberg: Hans Schonsperger 1517) and Joannes Adelphus, Barbarossa (Strasbourg: J. Grueninger 1520).

2.14 Luther. There are only a few early examples of works by Martin Luther, namely Widder den falsch genantten geistlichen stand des Bapst und der Bischoffen (Wittenberg: M. Lotter, 1522), Enarrationes in epistolas & evangelia (Strasbourg: J. Herwagen, 1525) and De Propheten alle Duedesch (Wittenberg: M. Lotter, 1543), all in original panel stamped bindings.

2.15 German translations. The collections include a few early German translations of the classics, for example, Caesar, Von seinen Kriegen and Livy, Römsche History (Strasbourg: J. Grueninger 1507) and two editions in German translation of the popular topographical work by Lodovico Guicciardini, Niderlands Beschreibung (Basel 1580 and Frankfurt 1582).

2.16 Scientific and Natural history books include Theodor Dorsten, Botanicon and Konrad von Megenberg, Naturbuch (both Frankfurt: C. Egenolff 1540), Conrad Gesner, Historia animalium (Frankfurt 1586-1606), Georg Agricola, De re metallica (Basel 1657), and a curiosity: Chocolata Inda by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma (Nuremberg 1644).

Parish Libraries

2.17 Thomas Hall Library. About 5 per cent of the 1,140 books in the Thomas Hall Library dating from the 15th to the 17th century were printed in Germany or German speaking countries. These are predominantly theological in subject, but also include classical texts and commentaries, dictionaries and grammars. The imprints include Basel, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hanover, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, Tübingen, Wittenberg and Zürich.

2.18 Thomas Bray Library. About 13 per cent of the 370 books in the Thomas Bray Library, which date from the 15th to the early 18th century, were printed in Germany or German speaking countries. These are almost entirely theological in subject and in Latin. The 16th-century editions are mostly of the Church Fathers and the 17th-century editions are primarily of German theologians. The imprints include Basel, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hanover, Mainz, Munich, Nuremberg, Westphalia and Zürich. There is a copy of Die Englische Liturgie (Frankfurt


Parker Collection of Early Children's Books

2.19 The Parker Collection contains about 12,000 books printed between 1538 and the present including movable books, textbooks, illustrated books, fairy tales and nursery rhymes. The nucleus of the collection was given to the library in the 1960s and other children's books were added to the collection from the main stock of the library or from private individuals. The most notable books with German imprint or published in the German language are a copy of Sententiae by Leonhard Culman (Nuremberg 1538) a hand-coloured Das wunderbare Bilderbuch by Wilhelm von Breitschwert (c. 1880, s. a.), several books by Lothar Meggendorfer, e.g. Neue Thierbilder (1890), From Far and Near (1892) and a Sprechendes Bilderbuch (c. 1900). There are about 40 books either in the German language or of German publication before 1900 in the collection, including some fine examples of colour printing.

Other Literary collections

2.20 The Milton Collection of about 1,500 items has a copy of Literae nomine senatus Anglicani (Leipzig and Frankfurt 1690), a reprint of the first edition of 1676. It also includes two 18th-century translations of Paradise Lost into German (Altona 1760-1763, the third published in Germany, and Berlin 1793) as well as two early 19th-century translations (Leipzig 1813 and Breslau 1822) and one translation of Paradise Regained (Mannheim 1781). The Cervantes Collection of about 1,300 items includes German translations of Don Quixote, the earliest being Leipzig 1780-1781 and Karlsruhe 1785. There are several 19th-century editions of selected works in German and an edition of Novelas ejemplares (Königsberg 1801).

Other 18th and 19th-century collections

2.21 There is a small collection of 18th and 19th- century German literature including early collections of works and selected works of major authors. Classical and contemporary literature represent about half of the 18th-century German holdings, which are about one per cent of the estimated total 18th-century holdings of 12,000 vols. In addition there are a small number of 19th-century texts of major German philosophers.


3.1 Modern catalogues

General printed catalogues:

Birmingham Reference Library: Catalogues, 1869, 1875-1879, 1880-1882, 1883-1890

Unpublished catalogues:

Birmingham Reference Library:

Author catalogue, 1879-1963 [Microfiche]

Author and classified (Dewey) catalogue, 1879-1963 [available on cards in subject sections]

Author and classified catalogue 1963-1973 [available on cards]

Author and classified catalogue 1974-1994. BLCMP [Microfiche]

Catalogue of Birmingham Library Services [D.S Galaxy 2000, 1974 to date; current computerised catalogue; includes some material 1963-1973 and some special collections complete (Parker Collection of Early Children's Books, Cervantes, War Poetry and Johnson Collections) as well as most of the Milton Collection and Shakespeare Collection post 1969 only]

Shakespeare production material [Programmes, photographs and posters from theatre productions are listed in card indexes. These include a section on 20th-century German language productions.]

3.2 Special catalogues

A Shakespeare bibliography. The catalogue of the Birmingham Shakespeare Library. 7 vols. London 1971

Catalogue of the War Poetry Collection. Birmingham Public Libraries 1921

Catalogue of the William Ridler Collection of Fine Printing, compiled by Dorothy A. Harrop. Birmingham Public Libraries 1989

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).


4.1 Archival sources

Archival material is preserved in the Archives Department, Birmingham Central Library.

4.2 Publications

Annual Reports 1862-1961

Notes on the history of the Birmingham Public Libraries 1861-1961. Birmingham Public Libraries 1962

The New Birmingham Central Libraries. Proceedings of the 21st Annual Study Group, Worcester, April 6 to 9 1973, ed. by Amy Mason. London, Library Association Reference, Special and Information Section 1975

Descriptive leaflets are available on the special collections.


A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 566-568

August 1998

Niky Rathbone

Pamela Williams

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.