In the last week of January, Dunedin in New Zealand put on its best weather for the annual Australia/New Zealand Rare Book School. Hosted alternately in Dunedin, Melbourne and Wellington this was the 8th Rare Book School and was held at the University of Otago Library.
The Rare Book Schools offer different courses each year covering a wide range of book history and book arts topics. They are a wonderful opportunity to learn, look at and talk about books and I seldom miss them.
The courses on offer this year were The business of books in Britain 1600-1820 taught by James Raven, Professor of Modern History at the University of Essex, and English Paleography 1500-1700 taught by Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.
I took the Business of books course which looked at the English book trade through the themes of Bibles, title pages and advertising, newspapers and periodicals, plays, poetry and novels and jobbing printing and illustration.
This was supported by viewing examples of books of the period from the Special Collections at the University of Otago Library. From early Bibles, catalogues of libraries such as the Harleian collection, magazines such as the Royal female magazine or the Ladies general repository of pleasure and improvements, a 1748 edition of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, chapbooks and accounting manuals through to a magnificent copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle there was something to entrance every bibliophile.
The students in the class, including English scholars, librarians and a collector brought a vast store of knowledge that added wonderfully to the discussions. This combination of concentrated learning, convivial conversation and fabulous books are what makes the Rare Book Schools such a joy to attend.
The next Rare Book School will be in Melbourne in early 2014 and I’ll be there!