Rare 15th Century books donated to National Library of New Zealand

13 March 2018: Rare 15th Century books donated to National Library of New Zealand

A collection of rare books printed more than 500 years ago and valued at nearly $200,000 have been donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

The 20 books, printed between 1472 and 1512, were bequeathed from the estate of Mr John Barton (1931–2016), a book collector from New Plymouth, who named his collection the Dalberton Library. The books include works on theology, Latin classical texts, the lives of saints and astrology.

One volume, a history of the world to the end of the 14th Century by Archbishop Antoninus of Florence (1389–1459) and printed in Lyon, France, is one of only eight known in the world.

Closeup Of 1483 Book
Close-up of a decorated initial ‘E’, from a book printed in Germany in 1483. Photo by Mark Beatty.

“We were delighted to receive this very generous offer and the library is privileged to accept these volumes into the national collection,” says Anthony Tedeschi, the Alexander Turnbull Library’s Curator Rare Books and Fine Printing.

“These books are rare, particularly in Australasia. Four of the books were printed within 25 years of the Gutenberg Bible — the very first book printed in Europe using moveable type. Most of the books are the only copies of these specific editions in New Zealand. They will be of particular interest to scholars and researchers of late medieval and early modern history. Some include handwritten notes by their early owners, offering us a window into the thinking of centuries-old readers,” Tedeschi says.

The Alexander Turnbull Library has a long history of collecting rare books, starting with the library’s founder and namesake, Alexander Turnbull, almost 100 years ago.The books, to be known as the John Barton Collection, will be available for request from mid-July.

Alexander Turnbull Library Curator, Rare Books and Fine Printing, Anthony Tedeschi, is available for interview.

Anthony Tedeschi, Alexander Turnbull Library Curator, Rare Books and Fine Printing
Anthony Tedeschi (Curator Rare Books and Fine Printing) with books from the John Barton Collection. Photo by Mark Beatty.

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