Hidden and secret libraries  

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This page is on hidden and/or secret libraries, analogous to secret museums.

Many European national libraries possess a collection of erotic and pornographic literature and prints. Since the 19th century and during the best part of the 20th century, these collections were kept in a private room, away from the general public. In France this collection was called L'Enfer (Eng: hell, founded in 1836) and in Great Britain it was called the Private Case (founded in 1857).

Many of these works came from private collections as inheritances, but also from royal libraries. One could ask why the respective governments decided to preserve the forbidden books instead of burning them. A partial explanation is already given in 1794 when abbé Grégoire writes that it is necessary to catalogue the books that are in the 'enfer' because of their role in social history:

« Les œuvres érotiques servent à l’histoire de l’humanité, des mœurs, des coutumes et des arts. C’est sur les productions de cette espèce que l’observateur éclairé juge souvent le siècle qui les a vus naître».[1]

In English:

"Erotic literature serves in the history of humanity, of manners, of customs and arts. It is by productions of this nature that insightful observers often judges the century that saw their birth."



France: L'Enfer

Enfer de la BNF

L'Enfer (French for hell) refers to the secret library of the French national library. Founded in the 1836, it separated works which were an "outrage aux bonnes mœurs" from the rest of the library collection. Its name supposedly is derived from enfermé, French for locked up. The contents of this library were cataloged by Pascal Pia and Guillaume Apollinaire in the 1913 Les livres de l'Enfer, and in 2007 the "Enfer" was opened to the public in an exhibition titled Eros au secret.

The United Kingdom: Private Case

Private Case

The Private Case of the British Library refers to a formerly secret library; a collection of books and other items; not normally available to general readers. It was established in 1857 and the core of the collection is the bequest of the Victorian collector Henry Spencer Ashbee in 1900. Other significant contributions include a bequest of Charles Reginald Dawes in 1964, and Beecher Moore also in 1964. None of the items in the collection have been purchased or acquired via copyright deposit. In 1981 Patrick J Kearney compiled a bibliography of the 1,914 significant books in the Private Case, which includes a substantial introduction by American social critic and folklorist Gershon Legman.

Germany: Giftschränke or Remota

Der Giftschrank. Remota: Die weggesperrten Bücher der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek

Germany too had its hidden or secret libraries. These collections were known as Giftschränke or Remota. In 2001 there was an exhibition of such a collection at the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek.


  • The Private Case: An annotated bibliography of the Private Case Erotica Collection in the British (Museum) Library (1981) - Patrick J Kearney, see British Library

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hidden and secret libraries" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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