The Library's complete collection of British patent specifications dates from 1617 to 1992.

Patents Collection

The Library holds a complete collection of British patent specifications dating from 1617 (1858 reprint) to 1992 (1981-1992 being on microfilm). The original collection was added to the Library in 1886, shortly after it was founded. It also includes Abridgements of specifications, Abstracts of specifications and various indexes (chronological, alphabetical, subject, and classified). The patent drawings (1617-1858) are bound flat and have no folds that could diminish clarity when photocopied.

The collection is suitable for historical research only. The Library does not offer a patent search service.

Finding aids

If you have not searched for patents before one of the best guides to use is British patents of invention, 1617-1977: a guide for researchers by Stephen van Dulken (British Library, 1999), copies of which are available at both Library sites.

Chronological, alphabetical, subject, and classified indexes are available, including Bennet Woodcroft’s Alphabetical index of patentees of inventions (Kelly, 1969), covering the years 1617-1852, which is available at both Library sites. An electronic version is also accessible from the London site. A microfiche copy of the annual index of patentees is available in London.

Patents are arranged by date and by patent number, so it is important that you find the date of the patent and its number before ordering copies from the Library.


Thomas Savery’s patent for a pumping steam engine, 1698.

James Watt's patent in steam engines, 1769.

Richard Arkwright's patent drawing for a spinning machine, 1769.

Joseph Maudslay’s patent drawing for the construction of steam engines, 1807