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Library Subject Guides

Rare Books & Special Collections: Rare Books Collection

The Rare Books Collection

The core of the University of Canterbury’s Rare Books collection originated from Canterbury’s early European emigrants and the Canterbury Association, which was the body incorporated by Royal Charter in England 1849, with the object of ‘founding the settlement of Canterbury, New Zealand’. This library was dispersed among the Reading Rooms of Lyttelton and Christchurch but mostly with the newly founded educational institution, Christ’s College, the lower college of the two colleges planned by the Association. The formation of Canterbury College in 1875 was after the demise of the Association who failed in establishing the ‘higher educational’ college along with the grammar school at Christ’s College. During it's formative years Canterbury College was under the administration of the Collegiate Union which included the College, Canterbury Museum and the Public Library. It was during this period that many works desirable for teaching and research were transferred from the institutions of the Collegiate Union, as well as Christ’s College, to the library of Canterbury College. 

Many of the original ‘Association’ works were disposed of by Christ’s College as surplus to their requirements some falling into private hands but many lost forever.

The establishment of the Rare Books as a collection is not known but we can speculate that items were identified in the 1950s when a card catalogue was created. Further items were located in the 1960s among the many rooms, hallways and even a basement of the city site in preparation for the University’s move to the Ilam campus. The collection has been added to over the years by acquisition, donations and transfer from other UC Libraries. Please refer to the list below for some of the significant donations to the collection.

Significant Donations

John Macmillan Brown - 85 titles from the 15,000 titles that were part of John Macmillan Brown's original bequest were identified as 'rare' and placed in the collection c.1963. A large number of works from this bequest can also be located in other special collections with the bulk of JMB's original library housed within the collection of the Macmillan Brown Library.

Collins Architects - Among the extraordinary 1994 donation of architectural drawings, ephemera, and photographs was the published works held in the Armson Collins collection. These works, from authors such as Cotman and Pugin, are now found in the Rare Books and Special Collections at UC.

J. B. Condliffe - A distinguished graduate of this University (M.A. 1915; D.Sc. 1927) and Professor of Economics 1920-1926. His career included periods of service to international bodies such as the Secretariat of the League of Nations (1931-1937), and periods occupying chairs in the Universities of Michigan (1930-1931), London (1937-1939), Yale (1943-1944) and California at Berkeley (1939-1958). Among his donation of some 2000 works is two sets of the highly valued 1st edition of Smith's 1776 work; An inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations​.

Jan Willem de Jong - From the collection of Professor Jan Willem & Mrs Gisele de Jong, Canberra. Included in the Rare Books collection are the first English translation of The Bhagvat-geeta : or, Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon..., 1785. see here for further information on the man and highlights of the collection.


Tutte le Rime. 1558

Tutte le Rime is believed to be UC Library’s oldest book authored by a woman. Published in Italy in 1558 and written by Vittoria Colonna it is a collection of poems. Vittoria Colonna was a fascinating Renaissance woman. Supremely wealthy and well-connected, she was widowed early. She then devoted herself to writing lost-love sonnets and spiritual poetry and was the first woman in Italy to have a book of her poems appear in print in 1538. As a contemporary and close friend of Michelangelo, she is often written about only in terms of her friendship with him. However, she was much more than this, cited as having a genius intellect and probably influencing Michelangelo’s work immensely. She regularly conversed and corresponded with many of the day’s fine literary, political and spiritual minds and by all accounts was afforded a degree of intellectual respect rarely given Renaissance women.