Rare Books

The Rare Books Collections comprise materials that reflect the history of printing, literature and book collecting. With particular strengths in early modern English and French literature and history (Swift Collection), Australian literature and history, popular fiction, ones of its real highlights is the exceptional children’s literature collection (Lindsay Shaw Collection).

Swift Collection

The Monash University Rare Book Collection began with the purchase of a small selection of 17th-century books, mainly surrounding Jonathan Swift and his contemporaries. Over time this has grown to a collection of more than 14,000 pre-1800 books and pamphlets that cover all genres of literature, philosophy, religion, history, and science. Strengths include English and French literature, exploration, and history especially the Popish Plot, the history of sexuality, and Australia.

Lindsay Shaw Children's Books

The collection of children’s books is named after Lindsay Shaw, who was a regular donor of material to Rare Books from the 1980s. Since then the collection has grown exponentially, containing some 15,000 titles, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries, with strong representations of Australian authors, fairy tales, children’s annuals, and turn of the century serials. This collection grows annually through regular acquisitions. View the Lindsay Shaw Collection

Yellow backs

The Library holds a modest collection of 'Yellow backs', popular railway fiction 'yellow backs' that date from the mid 19th century until the early 20th century. The name 'Yellow back' comes from the colour of their covers, often yellow-tinted and for this reason, they were also called 'mustard-plaster'. Most notable are issues of Jane Austen's posthumously published novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, as well as nine other titles that remain the sole examples of their kind.

See examples in the repository

Pulp Fiction

Along with the yellow backs, penguins and detective fiction, we have a comprehensive collection of 'pulp' or popular novels. Readers - young and old - gobbled them up everywhere, on trains, at home, at school. The collection is also strong in the area of Western Pulps.  Although they have titles such as 'Big Man Country' by authors such as Shad Denver, our Westerns are entirely Australian, and reflect the enduring popularity of the cowboy craze that swept Australia in the 40s and 50s.

To complement this collection we hold a large array of original cover art work for the Westerns, Romance, and Detective pulps.  We also hold a significant collection of gay and lesbian pulp fiction novels from the twentieth century. As many of these collections are not fully catalogued, do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you wish to use them.


We hold many political, theological, literary, and popular pamphlets from the 17th century to the present. These include many pamphlets from the Restoration, Popish Plot, and 18th century dramatists.

Artist Books

Art collected concentrates on Australian artists, private presses and artists’ books, with representation of international artists. It contains both books and prints. In building this collection, we have formed close relationships with several contemporary local artists from whom we have received donations of archival materials as well as the acquisition of their published works.

Crime Fiction

An important part of the Rare Books collection are the British, American and Australian crime and detective fiction books from all periods, as well as associated research. Of formidable size, titles include the complete works of Samuel Hopkins Adams, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Cornell Woolrich, John Lang, Ellen Davitt, Marcus Clarke and Fergus Hume, as well as lesser known female authors, and obscure Victorian titles. Holdings cover the entire genre including: murder, detective stories, psychological thrillers, police procedurals, serialised tales (The Strand). Please contact Special Collections for access to the uncatalogued materials.

Colonial Editions

The Colonial Editions collection comprises of British novels that were sold in cheap editions to the different colonies because it would otherwise take too long for them to arrive for sale. The only other collection similar to this one, is in Cape Town, South Africa. The Colonial Editions, along with the Circulating Library Collection, form the basis of our extensive research materials that focus on Australian readership, literacy and print history.

Chris Barling Memorial Collection

The Lane brothers created Penguin Books (and its avian cousins, Pelican Books and Puffin Books) in 1931.

The Christopher Barling Memorial Collection consists of some 5900 Penguin titles, along with documentation associated with The Penguin Collector’s Society (founded in 1974), of which Barling was an avid member.  The collection – beginning with such classics as André Maurois’ biography of Shelley, Ariel, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms – provides a unique barometer of literary taste in the English speaking world in the 20th century. Also of interest, is the collection of personal stories bound up in the supporting documentation, stories highlighting the human journey of that extraordinarily influential publishing house, Penguin Books.