The library's stock of rare books began to form back in the 19th century and today it contains more than 70 000 volumes. An appreciable portion of those are incunabula: about 7 000 works which represent very rich material for anyone wishing to learn about the history of printing in the 15th-century Western Europe. Impressive for their high standard of technical execution, artistry and scholarliness are the works by the great humanist printer of the Renaissance, Aldus Manutius, and his heirs.
There is a remarkable collection of Elseviers produced by the celebrated 17th-century Dutch family firm which published mainly utilitarian books.
The library is truly without rivals for its stock of early Russian printed books. Here one can find Slavonic incunabula, editions issued by Slavonic printshops in the Balkans, Venice and Ugro-Wallachia, two-thirds of the works printed in Cyrillic in the 16th century, including all the known publications of Franzisk Skorina, and also the greatest collection of books of the Petrine era printed in the new civil orthography.
There are the most noteble collections held within the Rare Books holdings:
- Aldine Editions of the 15th - 16th Centuries
- Early West Publications of the 16th Century
- Elzevier Volumes of the 15th - 16th Centuries
- French Material from the 1871 Paris Commune
- Publications in the Glagolitic Alphabet from the 15th - 19th Centuries
- Publications in the Civil Orthography from the Time of Peter the Great
- Slavonic Cyrillic Books of the 15th - 18th Centuries
- Voltaire's Library
- "Book Museum" Collection
- 1st Cadet Corps Library