University of Otago special collections librarian Donald
Kerr holds up the 15th-century book that has the earliest
English binding in New Zealand. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
New Zealand's oldest English bound book will be displayed
for the first time at a University of Otago exhibition next
The "unique" book - a commentary on the bible - was printed
in Venice in 1481 and then bound in England the following
Adding to its significance, the book contains recycled
fragments of indulgences printed by England's first printer
William Caxton, which were used as sewing guards. Indulgences
were granted by the Catholic Church and gave full or partial
remission of temporal punishment for sins.
University of Otago special collections librarian Donald Kerr
said the book, which was part of Canon William Shoults'
collection and donated to Selwyn College by his widow at the
end of the 19th century, was one of many examples of book
binding which would be on display as part of the exhibition
From Pigskin to Paper: The Art and Craft of Bookbinding.
Dr Kerr said the book was his favourite in the university's
collection and not just because of the age of the binding.
"The fact that the bible text is in the middle and all the
rest around it is commentary is amazing. It is an impressive
"If you tried to create that today, you would have a hard
job," he said.
He was also intrigued how the book ended up in Oxford, where
it was bound by Rood and Hunt, after being printed in Venice
and how the binder got hold of the fragments printed by
William Caxton about two years earlier.
Dr Kerr said both the age of the binding and the origins of
the fragments were identified by Christopher de Hamel, who
examined the book when he was researching a book on medieval
manuscript in about 1980.
Other notable items on display at the exhibition would
include a Louis XIV binding, examples of recycling using
medieval manuscripts and samples of styles by Edgar
Mansfield, the Anglo-New Zealand binder.
The exhibition runs from December 20 to March 22 next year in
the de Beer Gallery at the Otago University library.