Old book collection at the GIH Library

The GIH library holds a unique historical collection of literature from the 16th century onwards, covering topics such as anatomy, physiology, physiotherapy, military gymnastics, Swedish gymnastics, fencing and acrobatics.

Old books

The early years

The GIH library and its old collections were founded during the time of P.H. Ling (1776-1839). From the start, the library-collection merely consisted of the most essential books in gymnastics, fencing, physiology and anatomy that were needed for the education of students at the institute. To pay for the books, Ling used money gained from the institute's physiotherapy practice.


The collections grew gradually during the time of Ling's successor L.G. Branting (1799-1881), who had a great interest in literature and made some important purchases to the library. After his death, Branting's voluminous private library was bequeathed to the library. The Branting-donation consisted to a great part of rare and old gymnastics literature. Another donation came in the late 1800's from C.A. Georgii (1808-1881), who was a professor at the institute and a devoted disciple of Ling. It was Georgii's wife who donated her late husband's valuable old book-collection to the institute. Some 350 of the old medicine books in the library comes from another donation of Dr. J. Holm in 1897. Dr. Holm was an English medical doctor and assistant to professor Georgii.

PH Ling, LG Branting och CA Georgii


Much thanks to these early literature enthusiasts, the library holds many rare and unique works on topics such as anatomy and physiology, for example Anatomia. Ex. officina by Thomas Bartholini from 1669, Explicatio tabulorum Anatomicum by B.S. Albinus from 1744 and Medicine et physique by Babtiste von Helmot from 1671.

The collection has a great deal of gymnastics literature, for example the first illustrated book about gymnastics; De Arte Gymnastica by Mercurialis from 1577. The Swedish gymnastic literature is also well represented in the collection by the founder P.H. Ling and his followers, both in Sweden and abroad. The material contains mostly lessons in gymnastics, with descriptions.

The European gymnastics literature is also represented, mostly from Germany, for example Johann Georg Pascha's Kurtze iedoch grundliche Beschreibung des Voltiger, from 1666, a handbook about equestrian vaulting with many amusing illustrations.

The library also owns the first book about acrobatics, Tuccaro's Trois Dialoues de l'Exercise de Sauter, et Voltiger en l'Air from 1599, illustrated with excellent woodcuts.

Old books

There are many famous books on the subject of fencing, for example one of the most important Flemish baroque book, Thibault's Academie de l'Espée from 1628, a beautiful magnificently illustrated book about swordsmanship. The first and oldest Swedish book on the same topic is Palaestra Svecana by Porath from 1693. It is mainly based on Salvatore Fabris' famous book about fencing, first published in Copenhagen 1606.

In the 1940s, when the school had moved to a the present location next to the 1912 Olympic stadium, new donations were received from among others Oswald Holmberg, Elin Falk och Ester Swalling.

Where do I find the old books? 

The old book collection is located in the stacks. Here is a short description of the main part of the old book collection, which sections are catalogued and not, and how many meters of books each section contains. The catalogued books are found in the Swedish national library catalogue Libris and the library catalogue of GIH.

The stacks


The books are organized in the same way as in the open library with one section for each sport. The books of the sports collection covers about 120 meters. All the books are catalogued.

Physical Education incl. Swedish (Ling) gymnastics

The gymnastic books published before 1950 are organized after language: English (3 meters), German (12 meters), French (3 meters), Danish and Norwegian, "Scandinavian" (3 meters) and Other languages (1 meter). The books after 1950 and the books in Swedish are placed together (17 meters), and they are all catalogued. The books in English and Scandinavian are also catalogued, but the sections for German, French and Other languages are not.


The old medicine section (70 meters) is not catalogued. Copies of the title leafs are organized alphabetically in folders. There are also smaller sections of phrenology (1 meter), electrotherapy (2 meters), homeopathy (2,5 meters), hydrotherapy (2 meters) and hygiene (4 meters). Physiotherapy is a more extensive section (13 meters), which is also not catalogued.


Some of the older pamphlets are put together in folders according to subject, mostly physical education and medicine. These pamphlets (5 meters) are not catalogued.


The archive of GIH contains a small collection of photographs of education in Swedish gymnastics at the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics. The oldest ones are from the end of the 19th century. Many of the photos are digitized on the web.

There are also some photo albums from the years 1895 to 1956 donated by former students. A list of the photo albums can be found in the library catalogue.

Further photographs can be found at the Swedish National Archives, where the older archives from GIH and The Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (in Swedish: Gymnastiska Centralinstitutet) are located.

Further readingBook: Kinetic Jottings

Hagelin, Ove,
Kinetic jottings : rare and curious books in the library of the old Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics : an illustrated and annotated catalogue / compiled by Ove Hagelin ; photo by Agneta Lundberg. - Stockholm : Idrottshögskolans bibl., 1995. - 191 s. : ill.  

Haglund, Lotta, Ekenberg, Anna, Jäppinen, Karin & Karlsson, Heléne,
The oldest sports library in the world celebrates 200 years. Journal of the European Association for Health Information and Libraries, vol. 9(1), s. 10-14.

Halldén, Olle,
Det äldre bokbeståndet vid GIH. - Stockholm : Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, 1985. - 46 s.

Further reading

Read more about the GIH Library and its old collection in the article "The oldest sports library in the world celebrates 200 years" (2013).

(icon) Read the article

History of GIH

History of GIH
From GCI to GIH - some important points in GIH's history

Läs mer