Early Printed Books Department

Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
tel.: +48 22 55 25 772, 55 25 761, e-mail: stdruk.buw@uw.edu.pl

The Early Imprints Department of the Warsaw University Library, created on February 1949, contains publications printed between the 15th and the 18th century.

The collection holds over 130,000 volumes, books and pamphlets, among which there are 5,000 periodicals and calendars. Gradually, early imprints still held by the faculty libraries are being moved to the department. 

The collection is considered one of the oldest repositories of early printed books in Poland. This also includes nearly 6,000 volumes of reference works containing monographs about the history of books and libraries, and historiographic subjects.  The collection is steadily enlarged through acquisition. The origin of the book is important,  because one of the main purposes is the completion of our historical collections.  

The basic tasks of our department, aside from acquisition, are preservation, conservation, microfilming, digitalisation and scientific description of the collection with special regard to provenance. Editorial work has started with the publication of the catalogue of books printed in the 16th century and their provenance notes. Also, we have begun the publication of albums devoted to binding book-stamps. Lectures and exhibitions are prepared for students interested in the history and the special significance of early books. The most precious works are lent to exhibitions organized in Poland and abroad.


The origin of the collection dates back to 1816, the year when Warsaw University was established. The library was created in the same year and was called the Public Library of the Royal University of Warsaw. Thanks to the efforts of Samuel Bogumił Linde, the Library’s first director, numerous valuable collections were acquired. Among them were: the Warsaw Lyceum collection (containing selections from the 18th century Cadets’ School Library), the Law Library, the Library of the Appellate Court and various monastic libraries which were being dissolved. After the collapse of the November Insurrection (1831), the majority of this collection (which also contained about 6,000 books published before 1536) was transferred to the Russian Imperial Public Library in St Petersburg. In the 1830’s the University Library received part of the valuable collection of the Society of Friends of Science.  

In 1862, with the recreation of the Main Library, the collection continued to grow, partially due to acquisitions from church institutions which were being secularised. Additional volumes were acquired at the end of the 19th century. These included works from the private library of bibliophile Arkady Toločanov, as well as the precious collection of Bank of Poland, which had been closed. These book collections, especially those from monasteries, convents, and churches, were richly represented by some of the earliest works. They were donated by both church officials and important lay people, who had inherited them in earlier times. In 1915 the Russian authorities had transferred some priceless books and incunabula to Rostov-on-Don. These treasures were subsequently given back in the 1920’s. Fortunately, the 1939 military campaign did not cause further losses to our collection. Soon thereafter, however, the local Nazi authorities ordered the transfer of the most valuable part of our collection to the Krasiński Library. Unfortunately, following the Warsaw Uprising of August 1, 1944, the Nazis torched the Krasiński Library, which meant that the incunabula – 218 works in 156 volumes – were utterly destroyed.  


The history of the entire collection and of individual volumes can be traced through careful study and analysis of signatures and inscriptions. The Warsaw University Library has a number of book collections from various monastic orders. Among them are: the Benedictine Order (Łysa Góra, Sieciechów), the Bernardines (Opatów, Piotrków), the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre of Miechów, the Cistercians (Koprzywnica, Ląd, Sulejów, Wąchock), the Dominicans (Piotrków, Warszawa, Sandomierz), the Franciscans (Piotrków), the Jesuits (Kalisz, Łomża, Poznań, Warszawa), the Camaldolese Order (Bieniszewo, Szaniec), the Canons Regular of the Lateran Congregation (Czerwińsk, Kalisz, Mstów), the Capuchins (Warszawa), the Carmelites (Kraków, Warszawa), the Cartusians (Gidle, Kartuzy), the Norbertine Order (Hebdów, Witów), the Paulinian Order (Brdów, Pińczów, Warszawa, Wielgomłyny), and the Piarists (Warszawa). Some books from convent libraries were also included. In addition, fragments from a few royal libraries were included, among them from the kings: Zygmunt August, Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, Zygmunt III Waza, and Stanisław August Poniatowski. Also in our collection we have books from private libraries of several well-known people devoted to Polish culture, such as the Archbishop of Gniezno Stanisław Karnkowski and Ignacy Krasicki, Stanisław Iłowski - lawyer and Hellenist, the Strzembosz family, and the Royal Instigator - Andrzej Lisiecki. A few items come from the collections of Archbishop of Gniezno Jakub Uchański, bishop and poet Jan Dantyszek (il. on the cover), and from political writer Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski. Among former owners of the books were several very important people connected with Warsaw, such as Wojciech Oczko - physician to kings Stefan Batory and Zygmunt III Waza. Other book owners included mayors of Warsaw, Stanisław Baryczka and Karol Zabrzeski, as well as Royal Chamberlain and political writer Kajetan Kwiatkowski, and Marshal Franciszek Bieliński. The former Załuski Library represents about 12.000 items. Post-war acquisitions contain book collections from the Synod of the Evangelical-Reformed Church and from the library of the Schoenaich family. This family lived in Carolath-Beuthen (now Siedlisko and Bytom Odrzański). 

The most precious part of the collection contains the oldest imprints – 143 items of incunabula in 147 volumes (post-war acquisitions) – and over 12,000 books printed in the 16th century. The collection of Polonica is widely represented by authors of Old Polish literature (Renaissance and Baroque) with examples of the most important editions from that period. Most interesting is the collection of Reformation works and many unique editions from 17th century bourgeois literature. Primary sources and political tracts from the Age of Enlightenment in Poland are broadly represented. Moreover, foreign books printed from the 16th through the 18th centuries (about 75% of the entire collection) give special character to our collection. They were brought to Poland, preserved and read, confirming Poland’s frequent early contacts with other European countries.   

INFORMATION on collections 

Online catalogues

OPAC – BUW (the whole of the 15th and a part of the 16th century – letters A-E)

HPB – database of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (access restricted to UWL users)

ISIS – local database 

Printed catalogues:  Katalog druków XV i XVI wieku w zbiorach Biblioteki Uniwersyteckiej w Warszawie. T.1 cz.1 – XV w., cz.2 – XVI w. : A, red. T. Komender, wstęp M. Sipayłło, Warszawa 1994; T.2 : B. oprac. T. Komender i H. Mieczkowska, Warszawa 1998; T.3 : C-E, pod red. H. Mieczkowskiej, materiał proweniencyjny pod kierunkiem M. Cubrzyńskiej-Leonarczyk, Warszawa 2007. 


Card catalogues

– alphabetical (books and periodicals)– provenances (the whole of the 15th-16th centuries, about 25% of the collection of the 17th and a part of the collection of the 18th century) 

Auxiliary card files (in progress)

–        printers and booksellers

–        illustrations and illustrators

–        dedications in Polonica of the 16th–17th centuries 

Concise list of publications concerning the history of the collections can be found on the website 


·        In order to enter the Early Imprints Reading Room, a special pass is required. The pass is issued at the Information Desk on the basis of a valid library card and a second I.D.

·        Early printed books are presented solely for research and educational purposes. Students must present an appropriate letter from their academic adviser.

·        Especially valuable and rare books are presented solely with the permission of the Head of the Department. In certain cases access to original volumes will not be made available. Instead, it will be recommended that readers use a secondary copy at the Current Periodicals &Microform Reading Room.

·        The number of volumes which can be made available at a time is determined by the librarian on duty. In cases concerning especially protected works and when examination of larger number of books is requested, it is advised that special arrangements are made ahead of time.

·        Reference literature can be made available, in certain situation, in the Main Reading Room.

·        Any reproduction or publication of copied materials requires permission of the Head of the Department. The form in which any reproductions are made in determined by the Head of the Department. Photocopies can be made only from microfilms. For an additional fee readers can order reproductions at the Reproduction Department of the Warsaw University Library. 

Detailed rules are described in The Rules for Usage of Special Collections of the Warsaw University Library.  


Reading Room, 3th floor, room 327  

Opening hours :
Monday – Friday   9 a.m. – 7 p.m. 
For July opening hours consult the Library website :  http://buw.uw.edu.pl In August the Reading Room is closed. 

Warsaw University Library
Early Imprints Department
Dobra 56/66
Phone: 022 55 25 760 (Head of Dept.), 022 55 25 761 (Reading Room), 022 55 25 772, 55 25 767 (Information Desk)
e-mail:  stdruk.buw@uw.edu.pl