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Our Special Collections

The Mitchell Library has been collecting since 1874, when Stephen Mitchell left money to Glasgow Corporation and Trustees to create the Mitchell Library, which first opened in 1877. Two foundation collections were set up, the Glasgow Collection and the Scottish Poetry Collection and these are still at the heart of our collecting here is Special Collections.

Special Collections covers newspapers, local Glasgow history in media like books, ephemera, illustrations, photographs, and family history. We also hold Mitchell Library collections, on a wide range of subjects, which need to be treated with special care, such as rare and older books, and manuscripts.

Our team is proud of the collections that we care for, and continue to grow on behalf of the City of Glasgow. We welcome citizens, visitors and researchers from all backgrounds to use our enquiry service and to share our rich collections in person and online.

Subject strengths include Glasgow, Scottish Literature and early printed books. Highlights include:

  • Medieval manuscripts, including Books of Hours
  • Incunabula (books printed before 1500)
  • 17th and 18th Century printed books and manuscripts
  • Robert Jeffrey Library
  • Robert Burns Collection
  • Scottish Poetry Collection
  • Early Glasgow printing
  • Chapbooks and broadsides
  • Watercolours by William 'Crimea' Simpson
  • North British Locomotive Collection
  • Private Press Books
  • Late 20th Century literary manuscripts

For information about all the Special Collections housed in The Mitchell Library, please contact the department.


Visit the Special Collections

Special Collections is open to all visitors to The Mitchell and appointments are not always necessary. However, anyone wishing to use material from any of our collections is advised to contact us in advance, particularly if travelling from a distance.

Proof of ID will be required; this should display your name, home address (not university or college) and signature. A driving licence, electoral registration, utility bill, plus credit/debit card is ideal. Customers may be asked for photo ID for some items.

All material is reference only and usually up to three items can be viewed in the Search Room.

Our current policy is that personal photography/copying/scanning is not permitted.

The Search Room opening times are:

​Tues ​9am -4.45pm
Wed 9am -7.45pm
​Thurs ​9am -4.45pm
​Fri ​9am -4.45pm
​Sat ​9am -4.45pm ​ ​ ​ ​
​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

The Spotlight is on...

...Carson Collection

Carsons Limited was founded in Glasgow around 1887 by Zaver Marb and Julius Bechtie, two confectionery workers and specialised in hand-made confectionery and marzipan goods. The business was a success and by the 1890s Marb and Bechtie were looking to expand but lacked the capital for further investment. In 1895 this was provided by Bailie Carson, a well-to-do Irishman, who happened to be looking for a business venture for his two sons, James and William. When they were boys, Carson and Sir Thomas Lipton had struck up a friendship when they had both worked in the shops of Mr. Donaldson of Crown Street.

Carson became the majority shareholder but neither Marb not Bechtie could get along with the sons, who were also shareholders and both left within the year. By then the firm was doing well, specialising in penny-an-ounce lines with small profit margins. In 1896 its name had changed to Carsons Ltd.

When Carson senior died, his sons expressed no interested in the business and so it passed into the hands of two former employees, A. E. Hillard and F. E. Callum. Despite a number of setbacks, the firm flourished and in October 1906 it became a public company with Hillard and Callum as joint Managing Directors. Although the original flotation was not a great success, the shares recovered and in 1910 the Glasgow stock exchange began quoting them on the official share listing.

Hillard then realised that the real profits were to be made in producing the kind of high class chocolates made by continental manufacturers. He abandoned the ‘penny lines’ and travelled to Europe forming links with manufacturers, while Callum became an expert on German production techniques. Carsons then set up a team of worldwide export agents and produced a magnificent range of fancy chocolates retailing at the then astronomically high figure of 28/6d a box.
In December 1911, the Managing Directors announced they were selling their interests to H.J. Packer & Co. Ltd. and advised other shareholders to do the same. This news created a storm of controversy but control of Carsons did indeed pass to Packer’s. In 1913 the company moved production to new premises in England, as Packer’s board had decided that the Glasgow site was too small and would be difficult to extend. They took the decision to build a new factory for Carson’s chocolates on land they had previously bought in 1899 and still owned at Shortwood, just outside Bristol.

The Mitchell Library has a small collection of early 20th century manuscript recipe books for confectionery and desserts from Carsons. There are a few books on sugar and refrigeration techniques, a privately printed company history of Carsons and published texts relevant to the study of cookery such as A Handbook of Sugar Analysis. The recipe notebooks contain a list of ingredients but no method.

Ref. No. 1,000, 528

Recent Accessions

Bookplates Collection
A collection of 123 bookplates, with a number of duplicates, encapsulated on 20 sheets of clear film. The majority of the items in the collection are 19th century unadorned armorials, with no pictorial element or three-dimensional quality to the arms. Heraldic stationers produced thousands of these, as well as similar items such as wax seals and signet rings. Sometimes no effort was made to ensure that the heraldry was accurate or that the owner was actually entitled to bear arms. The armorial of ‘Lord Bracco’ is from the 18th century and other early examples are those belonging to the Southouse family, Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo and General James Paterson. There are some examples of crests, a few pictorial engravings and some simple signatures, with or without a frame. All the bookplates are undated, apart from a few which have dates written on them, either by their owners or the engravers. Ref. No. 1,000,892

Scottish General Election 1964
A collection of c.155 items, mostly candidates’ leaflets, from the Scottish constituencies. Also included are a few manifestos, leaflets in support of the parties and newspaper features. Some well-known names include Hector Munro, George Younger, (a very young) John Smith, David Steel, Norman Buchan, Tam Galbraith, Jo Grimond and Willie Ross. Jack House was standing as the Liberal candidate for Woodside and C.M.Grieve (Hugh McDiarmid) was the Communist candidate for Kinross and West Perthshire. Only one woman features: Alice Cullen, the sitting Labour M.P. for Glasgow Gorbals.

Also included is a small amount of material about three Scottish by-elections: Dumfries-shire (12 Dec 1963); West Lothian (14 Jun 1962) and Kinross & West Perthshire (7 Nov 1963).​ Ref. No. 1,000,887


Conservation and Preservation at The Mitchell

Much of the work of the Preservation and Preservation team revolves around collection care. In The Mitchell Library, with its diverse range of library and archive materials, this means caring for a wide variety of formats.

The Mitchell complex has 14 floors (including three basement levels) housing maps, plans, parchments, vellums, manuscripts, scrolls, photographs, glass plates, lantern slides, film, magnetic media, paintings, watercolours, wax seals, and even some materials not yet identified!

There are also a lot of books. Bindings vary from modern paperbacks to some of the earliest examples of Scottish bookbinding, sizes from microscopic (Old King Cole by the Gleniffer Press) to double elephant folio (Birds of America by John James Audubon) and materials from leather to hand-made paper.
Items from The Mitchell Library's collections are often used to illustrate a deeper background to exhibitions and the Conservation team is often involved in preparing material for use at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and The Hunterian. ​This work includes checking and recording of items for loan, photography, carrying out specialised mounting and framing, repair work and making customised book cradles so that the sewing structure is not damaged whilst on show.

Finding Aids

Some Special Collections are not listed in the online catalogue, however, there are a number of in-house Finding Aids to help you locate this material. These include:

  • ​​​Catalogue of Manuscripts
  • ​Periodicals Catalogue
  • ​Scottish Poetry Catalogue
  • ​Index to Early Glasgow Views​​
  • ​Literary Manuscripts
  • ​Early Glasgow Printing
  • ​​​North British Locomotive Collection
  • ​Robert Burns Collection
  • ​Thomas Lipton Collection
  • ​Robert Jeffrey Library

This list is not comprehensive. Please contact Special Collections if you need help with locating any material held in that department.

All books and pamphlets acquired by The Mitchell Library before 19760 are recorded on card or microfiche. These catalogues can only be consulted within the Library - staff will be happy to show you how to search them.​