Our Special Collections are distinctive because they are not confined to a particular time or subject. The selection presented here is merely a snapshot of what are extensive collections, definable as treasures due to their value, rarity or distinctiveness.
Select the image for a closer look. Select the page icon underneath the image for information.
Antoine de Crèvecoeurimages
Hours of Antoine de Crèvecoeur, 1450-75
In our catalogue: [Hours of Antoine de Crèvecœur]
A book of hours was a devotional book, popular in the Middle Ages. The manuscript of the Hours is mainly in Latin, but includes some text in French with 38 large arched miniatures. The borders throughout are decorated with intricate curving foliage and ivy leaves in pen and gold, enclosing grotesques, birds, animals and flowers in colour.
It was made in northern France in the middle of the 15th century for Antoine de Crèvecoeur. His patron portrait shows him kneeling in prayer, arranged so that he is looking towards his patron saint, St Anthony. The portrait was altered to represent the second owner, Hughes de Mazijnghem, who had Antoine_amp_#39;s name scraped out from the text and the colours on the armoury and shield repainted for those of himself. Remains of the original composition can be seen underneath the overpainted pigment.
As early as the beginning of the 16th century the manuscript passed to the family of Hornes, and in the 17th century to the family named Pot. Later, the manuscript belonged to Pierre Duanne. Lord Brotherton bought it from the bookseller Chas J Sawyer in the 1920s and donated it to Leeds University Library.
Lorenzo G. Traversagniimages
Epitome Margaritae Eloquentia (printed by William Caxton, c1480)
This is a unique copy of a book printed by William Caxton, England's first printer. Epitome Margaritae Eloquentia ("Epitome of the Pearl of Eloquence") by Lorenzo Guglielmo Traversagni summarizes his larger work on rhetoric, Nova Rhetorica.
Manuscript additions on its blank leaves give interesting insights into the work's early use. Alongside the formal work on rhetoric are two 16th-century ballads set to music: "A ballet of ye deth of ye Cardynall" about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the alter rex to Henry VIII, and "A lytyll ballet mayde of ye yong dukes gace" about Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, an illegitimate son of Henry VIII.
The Epitome suffered damage by damp, and was repaired separately from the other works in the composite volume. The leaves with music are preserved within the new binding, at the end of the main text block.
The Epitome was part of Ripon Cathedral Library from at least the mid-17th century, having belonged to Anthony Higgin, Dean of Ripon, from 1608 to 1624. It was bought for the Brotherton Collection in 1959 after being put to auction by the Dean and Chapter of Ripon.
De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543
In our catalogue: De humani corporis fabrica libri septem
Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica ("On the Fabric of the Human Body") is second to none as a printed medical book for its elegant typography and beautiful illustrations. It was the first work on anatomy that used illustration to such an extent.
In Fabrica, Vesalius emphasises the importance of dissection of the human body and criticises his contemporaries who relied on the dissection of animals for their research (human corpses were not as readily available as they once had been).
The work was printed in Basle by the publisher Oporinus in 1543. The format is large: the book is 43 centimetres tall and has 663 pages. There are 83 plates and several historiated initials for books and chapters.
Fabrica is most famous for its full-page illustrations of skeletons and muscle men, pictured as if they were alive, standing upright with their arms out, and posing in front of landscapes. They are printed from pearwood woodcuts made in Venice. The artist of the illustrations could have been Stefan Calcar (as Giorgio Vasari declared), or even the great Venetian painter Titian assisted by his pupils, or possibly Vesalius himself.
Die Rotwelsch Grammatic, 1520
In our catalogue: Die rotwelsch Grammatic / unnd barlen der Wanderschafft. Dardurch den Weiszhulmen gevopt ... damit mann stettinger und speltling uberkompt [sic] / im Schrefenbosz Joham zi schöcheren / und mit Riblingen zurürn hab ... [etc.]
Leeds University Library holds the only surviving copy of Die Rotwelsch Grammatic, printed in Ausberg in 1520. It deals with Rotwelsch, a language prevalent amongst travellers and itinerant craftsmen from the Middle Ages onwards.
The first references to Rotwelsch appeared around the middle of the 13th century but it was later that it became identified as the language of false beggars and thieves. Through such works, travellers and by extension their languages became a topic of the Reformation debate about almsgiving and begging.
Die Rotwelsch Grammatic consists of 27 printed pages including two (identical) woodcuts of a man and a woman, dressed for travelling on foot and carrying distinctive staffs. The text is in Middle German. There is a short vocabulary of Rotwelsch as well as notes on grammar and language. The text introduces different types and groups of gypsies and travelling beggars and gives brief information about travellers.
Die Rotwelsch Grammatic formed part of the Huth Library. It was sold by Quaritch and came into the possession of Mrs DU McGrigor Phillips, who donated it to the Library in 1950 as part of the Romany Collection.
Heminge, John, Condell, Henryimages
The First Folio of Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, 1623
The "First Folio" is widely considered the most important book in English and world literature, and one of the greatest books ever published. The First Folio appeared in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, and was compiled by John Heminge and Henry Condell, who had been theatre colleagues of Shakespeare. Though their motivation may in part have been financial, they undoubtedly saw the production of the First Folio as an act of homage to a writer whose unique status was already apparent to contemporaries.
The term "folio" refers to the book's impressive physical size. The main enduring significance of the book lies in the inclusion of 18 plays, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night and The Tempest, which would otherwise be unknown. The slow, accident-prone hand-printing methods of the 1620s and the uncertainties of history have made all copies different from one other; these differences form the study of many scholars.
228 copies of the First Folio are thought still to exist, probably just under a third of those originally printed. Only 44 copies remain in the UK, and just six universities own one. Leeds University Library's copy, purchased by Lord Brotherton_from an American collector in 1924, is acknowledged to be in unusually good condition.
The complete folio has been digitised by the University Library.
Sir Isaac Newtonimages
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1686
In our catalogue: Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica
Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica is the most important and influential single publication in the history of science. It summarises Newton's discoveries in terrestrial and celestial mechanics and presents the peaks of Newton's achievement - the development of calculus and the law of universal gravitation.
The Principia was first published in London in 1687 and licensed for publication in 1686 by Samuel Pepys, President of the Royal Society. The astronomer Edmund Halley edited and financed the Principia, as the Royal Society had spent the available funds on an extravagant publication - De Historia Piscium ("The History of Fishes").
In his preface Newton wrote: "...I offer this work as the mathematical principles of philosophy, for the whole burden of philosophy seems to consist in this - from the phenomena of motions to investigate the forces of nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other phenomena..." The Principia established this scientific method, giving a mathematical expression to natural phenomena and placing modern thought on a new course.
The Leeds copy of the Principia was gifted by All Souls College, Oxford, in 1926, together with other early books on science and religion.
Dame Mary Listerimages
Dame Mary Lister's Household Book, 1623-35
In our catalogue: Recipe book known as 'Dame Mary Lister's household book'
Dame Mary Lister was the daughter of Sir Henry Bellasys of Newburgh Priory. She married Sir William Lister in 1610 and became the head of household in his manor at Thornton-in-Craven.
Her household book details recipes, but also includes religious notes and inventories of cloth, silver and pewter items. There are herbal remedies such as "The Preparation of Fox Lungs from Mr. Slinger" (a treatment for asthma), "Water for Wounds by [th]e Lady Fairfax" and "A Medicine for...hurt of a hand Gunne".
The majority of the text is in the hand of Mary Lister, and was written between 1623 and 1635, but there are also several recipes by Grace Bellasis (d.1659), Lister's niece-in-law, as well as notes probably for or of a sermon on Joshua and a catechism on Genesis.
The Cookery Collection is based on two historic private collections - the Blanche Leigh Collection presented in 1939 and the complementary John F Preston Collection presented in 1962. They were joined by the Camden Cookery Collection, covering the later 20th century, in the 1980s.
Jacobean Travelling Library, January 1617
This is one of our most curious items. It is a miniature travelling library from 17th-century England: a wooden case bound in brown turkey leather, disguising it as a large folio volume, containing three shelves of gold-tooled vellum-bound books.
The books within are all small in format and bound in limp vellum covers with coloured fabric ties. They are gold-tooled on the spine with a flower and a wreath, and all the covers have a gilt angel bearing a scroll that reads GLORIA DEO. The catalogue inside the front cover is arranged in three columns of text within an architectural structure of arches and columns painted on a sheet of vellum.
The library was probably commissioned by William Hakewill MP (1574-1655) for a friend at the turn of the year 1617/1618; within a period of five years he ordered three other such libraries to be made for his friends or patrons. These are now held at the British Library, the Huntington Library California, and the Toledo Museum of Art Ohio. The recipient of the Brotherton copy seems to have been a member of the Irish Madden family, whose arms are clearly painted beneath the catalogue of the library inside the front board.
Patrick Branwell Brontëimages
The life of Feild [sic] Marshal the Right Honourable Alexan[d]er Percy, autograph manuscript, 1835
In our catalogue: The Life of Alexander Percy
The Brontë siblings Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell brought excitement to their childhood and teens in a remote Yorkshire parsonage by writing stories that created complex imaginary worlds. Branwell and his elder sister Charlotte wrote of the kingdom of Angria, Emily and Anne of Gondal.
This manuscript story is an example of Branwell's Angrian writing, consisting of 34 pages densely written in the barely legible script that he and his sisters typically used, probably to protect the privacy of their story-telling.
Echoes of Angria and Gondal are evident in the sisters' mature work - but for Branwell there was virtually no mature work, for his early promise as a writer and artist was destroyed by alcohol, opiates and unrequited love.
Critic and journalist Clement Shorter traced Charlotte's elderly widower AB Nicholls, who handed over bundles of manuscripts. Shorter and his associate TJ Wise split them up and sold them off in batches, leaving later scholars with the bewildering task of trying to reconstruct the stories from fragments distributed in collections worldwide, sometimes page by page. Two of Branwell's stories illustrated here remained intact, but were lost until 1980 when they were acquired for the Brotherton Collection.
The Duchess of Padua, 1883
In our catalogue: The Duchess of Padua / Oscar Wilde.
Wilde is celebrated for his sparkling social comedies of the 1890s, but it is little known that his writing for the stage began over a decade earlier with a pair of failures. On completing The Duchess of Padua, his second play, he declared, "I have no hesitation in saying that it is the masterpiece of all my literary work, the chef-d'oeuvre of my youth".
It was eventually produced in New York in 1891, but did not transfer to the London stage and by 1898 Wilde conceded, The Duchess is unfit for publication. By then he had found his true voice as a dramatist.
The autograph manuscript consists of 228 pages and Wilde's changes and corrections show the play developing. It includes instructions for printing the text, suggesting that this manuscript version was used for producing the first published edition of only 20 copies in 1883. The play was finally published for a wider audience in the Collected Edition of Wilde's works in 1908.
Vile Bodies, 1929-30
In 1929 Waugh was elated by the recent success of his debut novel Decline and Fall. As his glamorous partying life in London became more strenuous than ever, he withdrew to the country to write his second novel.
Within weeks of starting work on Vile Bodies, Waugh discovered that his wife had started an affair with a mutual friend. Much scholarly interest in the novel centres on the effect of this event on its composition. It is evident which handwritten sections were sent by Waugh to his typist earlier and later, grouped in uniquely folded batches. From this we can identify the novel;s turning point. Vile Bodies was published in 1930 and Waugh's first marriage was annulled in the same year.
Vile Bodies is the only original manuscript of an Evelyn Waugh novel to remain in the UK. He gave it away to friends on completion, separating it from the rest of his large manuscript collection, which was sold to the University of Texas after his sudden death in 1966.
Fay and Geoffrey Elliott presented the Vile Bodies manuscript to Leeds University Library in 2002.
Bertram Ratcliffe's sardine tin and map of Bavaria, 1916
In our catalogue: RATCLIFFE, BERTRAM LOUIS
Bertram (Bertie) Ratcliffe (1893-1992) was a nephew of Leeds University Library's great benefactor, Lord Brotherton, and already an officer in the regular army before the outbreak of the First World War. He was among the first British soldiers to be wounded, at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. He was captured by the Germans and imprisoned at Ingolstadt in Bavaria.
A friend in London attempted to send him this map of Bavaria soldered into a sardine tin, but the workman asked to do the soldering informed the police and the map was never sent. His mother succeeded in sending him a compass in a tin of Harrogate toffee, which he used when a chance to escape arose in 1917. He became the first British prisoner of war to make his way back to England, receiving a hero's welcome and the award of a Military Cross.
The military historian Dr Peter Liddle developed the Liddle Collection privately from the early 1960s until 1988, when it was acquired by Leeds University Library. The collection continues to grow through many donations.
In our catalogue: ANDREEV, Vadim Leonidovich (1902-1976)
Leonid Andreev's great success as a writer in the early 20th century enabled him to pursue the rather expensive hobby of stereoscopic colour photography, using the Autochrome technique that was first marketed by the Lumière brothers in 1907.
In 1989, 80 of Andreev's images were published by Thames and Hudson in London and New York in the book Photographs by a Russian Writer: An Undiscovered Portrait of Pre-Revolutionary Russia, which also came out in Finnish, French, German and Italian editions. Andreev autochromes have been exhibited in Britain, France, Germany and Russia and used on many book covers and theatre posters. They have also featured in several histories and encyclopaedias of photography.