Unique opportunity to view University's rare collections

Unique opportunity to view University's rare collections

The University's Special Collections Centre is hosting three 20 minute lunchtime sessions where visitors can view some of the most stunning rare books. Staff will be on hand to turn the pages and answer any questions.

The series kicks off on Monday November 24 with an original volume from Audubon’s The Birds of America from Original Drawings of 1831-1834, considered to be the greatest work ever produced on North American ornithology. The book rarely leaves the stores of the Special Collections Centre as it is so enormous that it takes two people just to turn each page!

John James Audubon (1785-1851) was a Haitian-born Frenchman who set out in 1810 to paint every known American bird from life. Audubon was largely self-taught but his representations have a powerful artistic imagery in addition to being factually accurate. Audubon worked with William MacGillivray, Professor of Natural History at the University of Aberdeen and founder of the University’s Zoology Museum, who helped him write the text for The Birds of America. Purchased by the library in 1881, volume 2 contains plates number 100-200 which are principally images of land birds. Highlights include a haunting picture of snowy owls perched on a dead tree with moonlight breaking through a stormy-looking sky, and a vivid depiction of blue jays eating stolen eggs.

Tuesday, November 25 will give visitors the chance to see the Hortus sanitatis or “Garden of Health” of 1491. One of the Library’s most spectacular incunables (books printed before 1501), the Hortus sanitatis was also one of the earliest European medical texts, and the most important of the medieval ‘herbals’. The book combines natural history, horticulture and medicinal remedies and is a fascinating blend of known science and folklore, with vivid illustrations depicting the different animal realms and also the interior of a medieval hospital.

Last but not least, Wednesday’s showing will be a selection of tiny books including some 17th century “thumb bibles” and a volume by the renowned Scottish calligrapher and miniaturist, Esther Inglis. These fascinating little books are less than three inches in any dimension and are an exhibition of bookbinders’ skill and artistry.

Siobhan Convery, Head of Special Collections at the University, said: “The University has such extraordinary collections and this is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with some of those treasures. We’re aiming to create an intimate and informal environment where visitors can enjoy seeing the books in a way they don’t normally get to. It is also a chance to meet our curators, to ask them questions about the collections and to gain a bit of an insight into our work.”

Members of the public are welcome to drop in to any of the Collection Close-up events at The Sir Duncan Rice Library. Each session runs between 13.10 and 13.30 and will be held in the lower ground floor Seminar Room.

For more information contact: for more information please email: scc.learning@abdn.ac.uk or call 01224 273047.