A collection of low-resolution optical spectra of classical novae is presented. The novae were selected from the atlas of Duerbeck, are northern and equatorial, and erupted between 1783 and 1986. About half the objects at the nominal positions of the novae show stellar or featureless and often red spectra, making their identifications uncertain. Among novae that were positively identified, there is evidence of variability, but that on short time-scales is at least as important as that on time-scales of decades. Indeed, descriptions by Humason in 1938, McLaughlin in 1953, Greenstein in 1960, and Kraft in 1964 are remarkably current: the only clear change on long time-scales is the fading of the nebular lines. Several lines of evidence suggest the effects of irradiation of the accretion discs by hot white dwarfs.