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Investment secures rare book collection

05 March 2010

antique book spines

The future of a unique collection of rare books has been secured for Wales thanks to a major joint University financial investment.

In partnership with Cardiff Council, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the University has provided £500K towards the total cost of taking ownership of the collection and will care for it on behalf of the nation.

Totalling around 14,000 items, the collection spans the 15th to the 20th centuries. It was assembled by Cardiff public library during the late 19th and early 20th centuries from donations, purchases and bequests when it had aspirations to become the home of the National Library of Wales.

It was feared the collection may be dispersed when it was decided that it would be put up for public sale.

Cardiff University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students, Professor Jonathan Osmond said: "Cardiff University has made a substantial financial investment in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government to help secure a significant rare book collection for the University, the city of Cardiff and for Wales.

"Developed over the last two centuries as part of Cardiff’s heritage, these books reflect all of the major stages in book production from the earliest printed works to modern fine bindings, and touch upon many of the cultural and literary trends in Europe from the sixteenth century onwards.

"The acquisition of a collection of this size, depth and quality will enable Cardiff University to move into the senior league of humanities research collections and to create opportunities for collaborative research across Wales, the UK and internationally.

"This investment not only secures the collection for Wales but it will benefit existing humanities researchers and help to increase the number of humanities and international students coming to Cardiff.

"It will also help attract high quality academic staff in specialist areas to the University, and with the additional financial support from charities and individuals we are aiming to raise over the coming year, the books will be catalogued, restored, and digitised to be available for the general public to view.

"Finding a permanent home for this collection will help enrich the cultural life of Wales and Cardiff. Cardiff University is delighted to have helped secure its future."

The collection includes 175 incunabula (early printed books before 1500), around 500 rare Bibles, Restoration and Quarto drama volumes, including a rare collection of early Shakespeare volumes, and a large quantity of high quality, limited edition British 19th and 20th century private presses.

Many items in the collection are almost certainly not held in any other library collection in the world, and further books are only held in one other library. But the real value lies in the groupings of works.

A major set of 17th century editions of Shakespeare, for example, is extremely rare, and the restoration drama collection appears to be unique in its comprehensiveness.

A permanent home will now be found within the Arts and Social Studies Library making it available to members of the community from Cardiff, Wales and beyond.