Explore the University's Special Collections of rare books, prints and music

April 16 / 179

An illustration from the poem Cleanness, from the University's Special Collections medieval manuscript of the Pearl Poems.
An illustration from the poem Cleanness, from the University's Special Collections medieval manuscript of the Pearl Poems.

A new website has been created allowing visitors to explore the University’s Special Collections of rare books, prints and music.

Items in Special Collections are housed in special conditions because of their age, value or uniqueness, and in order to ensure their care and preservation for current and future generations of scholars and researchers.

Special Collections are utilised for academic research, object based learning in the delivery of courses, student internships, visiting scholars, public engagement through exhibitions and public programs, community and special interest tours and as resources in academic and public lectures and symposiums. They contribute to the rich fabric of Melbourne’s cultural life through loans to other cultural institutions and involvement in externally held cultural events.

The Rare Books Collection at the University of Melbourne holds a significant collection of books, journals and ephemera. Strengths of the collection include printing history, Greek and Roman classics, private presses, English literature, social and political thought, children’s books, Australiana and art books. 

Significant works include the 1499 book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a 1632 second folio edition of William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (Second folio), an 1848 version of John Gould’s The Birds of Australia, and a 1472 Latin Bible from Mainz.

The University’s Print Collection is one of its most prized treasures. It includes 8,000 prints – mostly etchings, engravings, mezzotints, lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings – that date from the fifteenth century to the twentieth.

It is based on a gift of 3,700 Old Master prints donated by Dr John Orde Poynton in 1959 and was further enhanced in 1964 with Harold Wright’s bequest of half his Lionel Lindsay print collection and prints by his British contemporaries. There are some Australian works, but the majority of prints are European. The Collection is unique amongst Australian university collections; no other university in Australia has a similar collection of international prints spanning five centuries.

The Rare Collections of the Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library are diverse in both content and origin, and include many items acquired in the very early years of the University Conservatorium at the end of the 19th century.

Collection strengths include manuscript scores, chiefly by Australian composers, from the colonial period to the present day, Australian print music and concert and theatre programs.

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