Early `vandalism' prized by scholars

Ruth Lightbourne, curator of the Alexander Turnbull rare book collection, examines a 15th century...
Ruth Lightbourne, curator of the Alexander Turnbull rare book collection, examines a 15th century book devoted to saints. Part of an earlier handwritten manuscript (visible at left) has been recycled inside the book's front cover. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Have vandals been attacking some of England's oldest books? And has some over-aggressive literary recycling also been going on inside some of these tomes? Senior staff from Wellington's Alexander Turnbull Library gave a presentation at the Dunedin Public Library last week on 15th-century book vandals.

Curator of the Turnbull's rare book collection Ruth Lightbourne and research associate chief librarian Ronald Milne used examples from New Zealand collectors to explore "the secret life of 15th-century books" at the hands of their makers and early owners.

The Turnbull Library is this year celebrating 90 years of collecting and preserving New Zealand culture and collections.

Ms Lightbourne said early jottings in the margins of some books, or recycling unwanted earlier manuscripts in printed books, were not considered vandalism at the time.

Several old books from the Reed Rare Books collection at the public library were displayed during the presentation.

Handwritten notes could be seen in the margin of one book, and, in another, part of an unwanted manuscript was added to the inside cover.

Marginal notes in early books were prized by scholars because of the insights they gave into how the texts had been viewed by readers, she said.

In some cases, it was only through their use in parts of later books that some manuscript fragments had survived.

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