17 Fascinating Historical Artifacts Stored In The British Library

List Rules
Vote up the historical artifacts that you wish you could see in person.

Established in 1973 and located in London, the British Library is the official national library of the United Kingdom. It is not only the site of ongoing research but also one of the most impressive collections of the written word ever compiled. Within, visitors can learn about - but not always directly access - ancient manuscripts, codices of famous thinkers, maps, puzzles, and a whole lot of stuff even stranger than that.

As a matter of convenience, the British Library has digitized the vast majority of their collection and made it available online, meaning one doesn’t have to book a flight to London to brush up on their printed history. 


  • 1
    377 VOTES

    A Notebook Of Leonardo Da Vinci’s, In His Right-To-Left Mirror Writing

    Having done most of his work in the 15th century, there are precious few surviving examples of Leonardo da Vinci’s writing, but one such collection exists in the British Library: the Codex Arundel

    Referred to as a notebook but actually a collection of loose papers gathered and bound together after da Vinci’s demise, the Codex Arundel contains da Vinci’s thoughts on a wide range of subjects, diagrams for future inventions, and even a few personal notes - all set down in his trademark, left-to-right mirror writing.

    It is believed that most of the papers in the codex were written in Italy around 1508, before ending up in Britain centuries later. 

  • 2
    286 VOTES

    A 1660 Atlas That’s One Of The Biggest In The World

    The Klencke Atlas has sizable historical importance, but it’s also remarkable for its size. Named after Johannes Klencke, who presented it to King Charles II in 1660 upon his restoration of the British monarchy, the book of maps is one of the largest to ever exist - nearly six feet tall and eight feet wide.

    The atlas features maps from the “Golden Age of Dutch mapmaking,” and Charles II, an amateur cartographer, was enthused with the gift. Klencke, for his part, got a knighthood and some select trading privileges out of the exchange. 

    The Klencke Atlas has since been digitized by the British Library to make it less unwieldy to read.

  • 3
    387 VOTES

    A 17th-Century Miniature Pocket Globe In A Leather Case Printed With Celestial Charts

    In the late 17th century, pocket globes were all the rage. Exactly what they sound like, these tiny devices were recreations of the Earth that could easily be carried to any point thereon - though they were intended to be more for educational purposes than any practical use.

    The pocket globe housed at the British Library was created by German cartographer Johann Baptist Hormann, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. Hidden within the globe itself is another model of the solar system, complete with a tiny sun at the center. The leather case itself is inscribed with celestial charts of the zodiac.  

  • 4
    336 VOTES

    The Only Surviving Script Of A Play Handwritten By Shakespeare

    The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore, despite being the only work of Shakespeare’s to be found in this behind-the-scenes format, is a somewhat contentious item when it comes to the official Shakespeare canon.

    The play was not discovered until long after Shakespeare’s lifetime, and his part in writing the apparently collaborative project was not known until his handwriting identified him as one of six authors. As such, it will never be known exactly how much Shakespeare himself contributed to the story.

    The manuscript is an important piece of evidence that Elizabethan playwrights may have worked together more frequently than previously believed. It could even call into question Shakespeare’s sole authorship credit on some of his other famous works.