Archives and Special Collections

Images from the Rare Books Collection

Book of Hours 

Hours of the Virgin [1450]

[BX 2024 .A2 1450]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa


Dialogue de Platon, nome Phaedon ...

Translated by Jean de Luxembourg 

[between 1536-1547]

B379 .A6 J43 1536]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa


Pensées et ​réflexions morales

Marie-Geneviève Charlotte
Darlus Thirouz d'Arconville (1720-1805)


[PQ 2067 .T28 A6 1800]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa

Rare Books at ARCS

Rare Books at ARCS 

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa


Liber de proprietabus rer[um]

Anglicus Bartholomaeus 


Impressus per Nicolau[m], Pistoris de Benssheym, et Marcum Reinhardi de Argentina socios


[AE5 .B37 1480]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa,


Almanach nécessaire, ou, Porte-feuille de tous les jours


Chez Didot jeune


[AY 831 .A5 1784]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa


Ominvm opervm divi Evsebii Hieronymi Stridonensis tomv primvs [...]

Saint Jérôme - Erasme

Apvd indytam Basileam: ex acvratissima officina Frobeniana


[BR 65 .J47 1516]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa

Artist Book

Un Homme et son péché

Claude Henri Grignon (1894-1976) - Jean P. Ladoucer (illustrations)


Editions internationales A. Stanké

[PS 8513 .R53 HG 1979]

© Archives and Special Collections, Morisset Library, University of Ottawa 

Artist Book


Roger Soublière (1942-) and Marcel Saint Pierre (Illustrations)


Editions Pro-con


PS 8587 .O68A85 1969

© Archives and Special Collections, Morisset Library, University of Ottawa 

Artist Book

Spaghettata. Onze gravures à l'eau-forte de Michèle Cournoyer et Josette Trépanier

M. Cournoyer



[NE 2013.5 C67 S6 1976]

© Archives and Special Collections, Morisset Library, University of Ottawa 



From The Hours of Henry VIII

M. Moleiro Editor S.A.



[ND 3363 .H57 2015]


An Act to allow the exportation of a limited quantity of biscuit and pease to the Island of Newfoundland, for the benefit of the British fishery there

George III, King of Great Britain (1738-1820)



Printed by C. Eyre and W. Strahan

[01-CRC 1774-1]

© Archives et Collection Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa.


Lettre addressée aux habitants opprimés de la province de Québec de la part du Congrès général de l'Amérique septentrionale, tenu à Philadelphie

Jean Hancock



[01-CRC 1775-1]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa.


La Griffe maçonnique sur les écoles du Québec: l'instruction obligatoire

Dollard Morin



[01-CRC 1943-42]

© Archives et Collections Spéciales, Bibliothèque Morisset, Université d'Ottawa.

What is a Rare Book?

There are several criteria that are used to determine the rarity of a book:  

  • Age - Although not all "old" books are "rare" books, typically the older the book, the rarer it is. 
  • Provenance - A book’s provenance is the history of its origin and ownership. A book once owned by a famous person may have added value, particularly if the owner signed it or annotated it. Provenance marks are often included e.g.. ex-libris, ex-dono, ex-legato, ex-praemio, coat of arms, dedications, censorship marks, inventory numbers, etc.)
  • Physical Condition - A book in a condition closest to its original state is more desirable than one with a detached cover and missing pages. If the book has an intricate binding or illustrations, this may also add to its rarity.
  • Scarcity - If there aren’t many copies of a book, it is, by definition, rare. Sometimes books have not withstood the onslaught of time, which limits the number of copies still available, other works, although more recent, have only been published in very small quantities. 
  • Significance - Some books that are deemed to have important content are collectable first editions or seminal works are often considered rare.
  • Market value - If a book is too expensive to replace, then it is often placed in the rare book collection, ie. facsimiles

How to Cite Published Material at ARCS

Citing rare published material, like what is held at ARCS, is generally no different than citing any other resource.  You may use the citation style of your choice but we do ask that you add the following information after the complete reference:

 [Complete reference of the document according to the chosen bibliographic style], [Call Number], Archives and Special Collections, Morisset Library, University of Ottawa. 

Example: Joyce, James, Ulysses: a Facsimile of the Manuscript, New York, Octagon, 1975, PR6019.O9 U4 1975, Archives and Special Collection, Morisset Library, University of Ottawa

Rare Book Collections at ARCS

The Archives and Special Collections has over 14,000 rare books and manuscripts, dating from the 15th to the 20th Century in our collections, as well as a collection of 4000 rare pamphlets dating from 1744 to 1990, and a collection of facsimiles of famous medieval manuscripts. Subjects such as medicine, law, literature, philosophy, natural sciences, geography, science, architecture, history, arts, etc. are covered. The collection includes books published in Europe and America, but there is also a significant collection of Canadiana. Our collections have been built over time through transfers from the general collection, donations and purchases.


The term manuscript comes from the Latin words "manu" which means hand, and "scriptum" which means written. Thus, the manuscript would literally be a handwritten text. The term manuscript used for an ancient document refers to a work written or copied by hand. It can take any shape.

The Manuscripts Collection at the Archives and Special Collections is varied and includes items on a wide variety of subjects and forms. They are produced on parchment or paper and most are bound. The oldest manuscripts are dated from the end of the 15th century and the most recent ones are from the 20th century.  Among the oldest manuscripts in the collection are two Books of Hours: The Hours of the Virgin [BX 2024 .A2 1450] is an example of a manuscript meant for daily use by its owner with sober writing and no illuminations.  The Book of Hours for use in Rome [BX 2080 .L59 1495] was produced at the end of the 15th century and is richly illuminated with miniatures attributed to the Master of Jean d'Albret.

For the French manuscript collection, see the Literary Archives page.

Incunabula and Post-Incunabula: 

The oldest printed books, the first books printed by typographical processes, are called incunabulum (sing.) / incunabula (plural). The term incunabula comes from the Latin "incunabula" which means "cradle". These are books published between the invention of printing around 1455 and the end of the year 1500. The Archives and Special Collections holds 5 incunabula printed between 1455 and 1501. The collection also includes some fifty post-incunabula works published between 1501 and the late 1540s. 

Art and Artist's Books 

Artists' books are works of art that use the form or function of the book. They are often published in small editions, though they are sometimes produced as one-of-a-kind objects. What truly makes an artist's book is the artist's intent and that the books are conceived as artworks in their own right. 

The ARCS collection of art books and artist's books is quite varied. There are several dozen artist's books, here defined first as a work of art designed by an artist, as well as several classic books illustrated by artists, illustrators and painters (more the definition of an illustrated book). The collection also includes some art books, often published by private publishers.


A facsimile can be a copy or reproduction of a book, manuscript, drawing, work of art or other valuable documents, which is as identical as possible to the original source. Facsimiles are used, for example, by students or researchers for research on a source to which they otherwise have no access, and by museums and archives for the preservation of originals. 

The facsimile collection consists of more than a hundred titles of reproductions of various manuscripts and printed works, including:

  • The Hours of Charles d'Angoulême
  • Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry
  • The Book of Hours of Henry VIII
  • Bréviaire d'Isabelle la Catholique.
  • The Madrid Codices of Leonardo da Vinci
  • The Tractatus de herbis

The collection also includes facsimiles of 19th and 20th-century manuscripts, including:

  • James Joyce's Ulysses
  • D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers 


A pamphlet is a small and usually unbound booklet or leaflet containing information or a short treatise. 

The pamphlet collection includes nearly 6,000 printed documents. The oldest pamphlet is dated 1774 and the most recent is from the 1990s. Due to their smaller size and lower quality binding (if present), pamphlets were typically ephemeral and tended to disappear quickly from circulation. The collection at the Archives and Special Collections is thus of particular importance and contains several very rare items.

The ARCS collection of pamphlets includes a large selection of pamphlets published in Canada. The oldest of these were published by the famous printer Ludger Duvernay in the first half of the 19th century, including several scholarly manuals Le Maître françois (1822),  Nouveau traité abrégé de la sphère (1829) and 

Nouvel alphabet pour les commençants (1830).

The pamphlets in the collection are inventoried according to the following classification:

     For Canadian publications:

          01-CRC Year of Publication - Inventory number by year

Example: 01-CRC 1955-35 (Ste-Bernadette Soubirous, Rosemont, Montreal: Remembrance of the solemn blessing of our new church, 25th day of September 1955).

     For other publications:

          01-GEN Year of Publication - Inventory number by year

Example: 01-GEN 1955-1 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ancient Egyptian animals/by Dorothy W. Philips)


Handling the material

Special Collections material are typically rare and valuable and require special care to ensure long-term preservation. 

Please follow these simple rules when visiting ARCS :

  • No food or drink in the reading room.
  • Pencils only.
  • Ensure you have clean hands before handling the material and wear gloves if instructed by ARCS staff. 
  • No flash photography.
  • Do not hold items in your hands more than necessary. 
  • Use book cradles, wedges and weights if required. 

ARCS staff will guide you on how to properly view your requested material upon your visit. 

Search the Catalogue

Rare book collections are accessible via OMNI .


Other Resources