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National Art Library children's literature collections

Title Page of Adventures of Rupert, published by The Daily Express, London, England, UK, London. RENIER Collection

Title Page of Adventures of Rupert, published by The Daily Express, London, England, UK, London. Renier Collection

The National Art Library has been collecting children's publications since the mid-19th century. It now holds nearly 100,000 books dating from the 16th century to the present day.  Acquired as examples of the art of the book, they show the development of children's book production and illustration. The Renier Collection, with over 80,000 books, represents major authors and artists and most subject areas and genres. Other collections are particularly rich in late 18th-century and early 19th-century imprints from Britain and north-west Europe. They are moderately rich in late 19th- and early 20th-century British illustrated children's books. The Library holds a fine selection of Russian (mainly Soviet) books, plus an extensive collection of North American, European and Japanese comics.

The children's book collections contain much useful source material for publishing history, social history and the art of the book. Areas represented include the 1851 Great Exhibition, topography, trade and industry, fable books, emblem books and chapbooks, natural history books, alphabets and printing, and Victorian publishers' bindings. Artists such as Blake, Cruikshank, Doyle, Tenniel, Caldecott, Ardizzone and Sendak are represented, as well as lesser-known names.

Individual named collections

In addition to individual acquisitions, the Library also holds the following named special collections:

'The Animals Jump the Stream', watercolour by G. H. Thompson, UK, 1890s. Pressmark RENIER.370

'The Animals Jump the Stream', watercolour by G. H. Thompson, UK, 1890s. Pressmark RENIER.370

The Renier Collection of Historic and Contemporary Publications for Children
The Renier Collection is the largest special collection of children's literature in the UK. Anne and Fernand Renier gave the collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1970. For some years it was stored at the Museum of Childhood, but the collection is now held at  the Archive of Art & Design. The Renier Collection consists of over 80,000 books, plus toys, games and printed ephemera. The earliest item is a 1585 edition of Aesop's Fables in Latin and Greek. Major authors and artists are well represented, also most subject areas and genres. Foreign-language editions are included and variant editions are a particular strength. The collection has extensive holdings of fairy tales and works by Hans Andersen.

The size and range of this unique collection offer opportunities for research into educational methods, moral and religious instruction, social customs, publishing, printing, book design and illustration of over 400 years of children's books. The collection also illuminates many aspects of childhood and family life in the past up to the present.

The Guy Little Bequest
Approximately 2400 children's books, plus some adult books, acquired in 1961.

The Queen Mary Gift
100 books formerly belonging to members of the Royal Family and presented by Queen Mary in 1936 on her departure from Buckingham Palace.

The Horton Collection of Soviet Children's Books
Acquired in 1981, this collection combines with the National Art Library's other holdings to make a total of over 300 Russian children's books.

The Harrod Bequest
Includes many children's books by artists of the 1860s.

The Beatrix Potter Collections
The Library holds major collections of material relating to Beatrix Potter, including the Linder Bequest, the Linder Archive, the Linder Collection and the Warne Archive. All three Linder collections are now housed at the Archive of Art & Design. A representative selection of titles, and of relevant background material, is still available at the National Art Library. For more information, see The Beatrix Potter Collections.

Other sources for children's literature in the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Museum's former Prints, Drawings and Paintings Collection (now part of the Word & Image Department) has some examples of related original artwork. These are available for consultation through the Prints & Drawings Study Room.

The Museum of Childhood has other book collections, including the Patrick Hardy Archive, Vyvien Newton Collection and Saekel-Jelkmann Collection.

Reference material

The National Art Library also has a major collection of reference works on children's books and related subjects, including periodicals, exhibition catalogues, sale catalogues and catalogues of major collections.

'Baby's Own ABC', by Walter Crane, published by Routledge, London, England, UK, 1870's. Pressmark 60.Y.166

Page from 'Baby's Own ABC', by Walter Crane, published by Routledge, London, England, UK, 1870's. Pressmark 60.Y.166

Access to the children's literature collections

Most named collections of childrens books, including the Renier Collection, the Guy Little Bequest, the Queen Mary Gift, the Beatrix Potter Collection and a large number of reference materials are held at the Blythe House Reading Room, near Olympia, and are available to all by appointments. For further information on access, visit archives or contact us online.

The National Art Library's special collections, in particular the Dyce and Forster Collections, also contain examples of children's publications. These can be consulted with a reader ticket. For more information see Registering for a reader ticket.


The majority of childrens books can be found on the library catalogue. Entries for all children's books previously described in the Library's Children's Books Index were enhanced to provide more detailed subject and genre access to these items. An increasing proportion of these records have additional index entries for illustrators, printers, typographers, binders, etc. Books about children's books can be found in the subject indexes while individual examples of specific publication genres (e.g. fairy tales) are increasingly listed in the Genre or Publication format index.

Microfiche Catalogues of the Renier Collection are available in Blyth House Reading Rooms and in the National Art Library. The collection is currently being catalogued and information is continually being added to the library catalogue.

The library catalogue indicates the location of childrens books in the Copy/Holding information for each item. Please check whether the item you require is held at Blythe House or the National Art Library.

National Art Library opening times

The National Art Library opening times are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10.00 – 17.30 and Friday: 10.00 – 18.30.  It is closed on Mondays and Sundays.

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