There is no satisfactory way of analysing an antiquarian stock of books by subject or genre. However, it is possible to pinpoint some areas of unusual richness, and these areas are outlined below.
Classical literature is well represented by texts printed through five centuries, particularly in the Burgess and Phillips collections. Aristotle is prominent, and there are fine illustrated editions of Terence. Supporting antiquarian albums by Adam, Wood and Dawkins, Montfaucon and others consolidate the presentation of classical heritage. Piranesi’s Le antichità romane (Rome, 1756) is a particular highlight.
English and, to a lesser extent, French literature is represented by a number of interesting editions. If there are no Shakespeare quartos or folios, there are nevertheless other notable editions ranging from Steevens to Boydell and including illustrations by Cardigan-born J.K. Meadows. There are two copies of the 1561 edition of Chaucer (one with a unique imprint), and three incomplete editions of Holinshed's Chronicles (1548). We hold a considerable collection of early editions of and commentaries on John Milton, as Bishop Burgess was a particular admirer. Other treasures include the first edition of Gulliver's Travels (London, 1726) and the Bensley edition of Young's Night Thoughts illustrated by William Blake, (London, 1797).
British history is represented by several early classic works, and the topography of Britain is prominent. Camden's Britannia, for instance, appears not only in the octavos of the late sixteenth century but also in the folios of the succeeding English language editions of Philemon Holland, Edmund Gibson and Richard Gough. There are several notable county histories from Kilburne's works on Kent and Plot's The natural history of Oxford-shire (Oxford, 1677) to the Brayley and Britton set of Beauties of England and Wales, (London, 1801-1816) -mostly in original blue-wrappered subscription parts. For northern Britain, we hold Alexander Gordon’s Itinerarium septentrionale (London, 1727) and for northern Europe, a Venetian edition (1565) of Olaus Magnus’s Historia delle genti et della natura cose settentrionali, and Rudbeck's Atlantica (Uppsala, 1679).
The Silver Age of exploration and travel is one of the subject highlights of the collection, largely a reflection of Thomas Phillips’ interests. Cook, Vancouver, La Perouse, Cartaret, Pallas, Humboldt, Denham, Dalrymple, Clapperton, Ross, Parry, Franklin, Bruce, Burton and Menon are some of the better known names in the collection.
Atlases, for example those of Strabo, Ptolemy, Ortelius, and Mercator, and works containing important maps such as Munster's Cosmographie Universelle (Paris, 1575) are to be found. Some of these are highly specialised in a regional context, for example Jeffrey's West-India Atlas (London, 1775) and Chauchard's A General map of the empire of Germany (London, 1800). Speed, Blome, Ogilby, Morden, Kitchin, Cary, Arrowsmith, Stockdale, Dix and Darton are other cartographers with work in the collection.
We hold a number of superb volumes of architectural plans and drawings. From Robert Adam, we possess Ruins of the palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (London, 1764) and The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam (London, 1778-9). Matthew Brettingham’s The plans, elevations and sections, of Holkham in Norfolk (London, 1773) is representative of Palladianism, E.W. Brayley’s Illustrations of Her Majesty’s Palace at Brighton (London, 1838) of orientalism and William Chamber’s Desseins des edifices, meubles, habits, machines, et ustenciles des Chinois (London, 1757) of chinoiserie.
The history of science is chronicled by holdings of early editions of Galen, Euclid, Pliny, Gesner, Paracelsus, Hooke and Boyle. Works of natural history are particularly well represented, with seventeenth and eighteenth century herbals and floras a feature. The earliest herbal is De viribus herbarum (Geneva, 1498). We hold Thomas Pennant’s magnificent British zoology (London, 1768-70), also his Synopsis of quadrupeds (Chester, 1771). Early nineteenth century geological literature (often, seemingly, bought by clerics) is an interesting sub-group crowned by Murchison's elegant Silurian System (London, 1839).
The Celtic world is naturally a principle interest, topographical works relating to Wales being prominent. Language dictionaries are present too, from the seminal Dictionarium Duplex (London, 1632) and Lhuyd's Archaeologia (Oxford, 1707) to dictionaries of Gaelic, Irish, Breton and Cornish.
Another highlight is the collection of some 800 nineteenth century Welsh ballads purchased in 1904 as part of the Cenarth Collection.