We're kicking off 2023 with some exciting new additions to our 140th anniversary exhibition - including a brand new discovery.
Now on display is a book that might have been the first ever collected by our co-founder Thomas Guille. It disappeared from the Library many decades ago, but was recently discovered by a librarian in the Netherlands.
Garrelt Verhoeven was browsing an online antiquarian bookshop when he came across a copy of The Destruction of Jerusalem, written in 1805 by the British MP George Holford. Garrelt bought the book, discovered the words ‘Thomas Guille, 20 November 1832, New York’ written on the flyleaf – and became intrigued to find out more about this mysterious previous owner.
As anyone who's visited Boundless Curiosity will know, in 1832 the 14-year-old Thomas Guille arrived in New York and began buying books that he hoped one day to bring home to Guernsey and start a library with. Many of the first books he acquired were theological in nature and included The Destruction of Jerusalem, which would indeed become part of the Library’s collection when it eventually opened in 1882. Given the date of the inscription, it's plausible that this may have been the very first book Thomas collected.
Nearly 200 years after he wrote his name inside, Garrelt read the inscription and was inspired to find out more about Thomas and the institution he founded, which of course is still going strong today. He got in touch with the Chief Librarian, and returned the book to the Library just before Christmas. It was quite an emotional moment when we opened up the book and saw Thomas's handwriting inside! We can just imagine him proudly sitting down to write his name on the flyleaf.
The book is very small, extremely fragile, and in itself has an interesting backstory - the author presents a narrative of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and argues that the events prove the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. It was removed from the Library sometime in the 1950s, for unknown reasons. We have no idea what happened to it after that, but it obviously found its way to the Netherlands, where it was eventually sold to Garrelt by the online vendor based in the city of Ede, close to Utrecht. It's now on display in Boundless Curiosity.
“As a librarian myself I am fascinated by the history of books, especially ones that seem to have been overlooked. Thomas Guille donated an incredible library to Guernsey, but the humble devotional book that he received in 1832 as a 14-year-old apprentice was rather heartlessly withdrawn on a bad day in the 20th Century. It fills me with pleasure that this little treasure has now returned to Guernsey, and to see the librarians embrace it as a lost son.”
- Garrelt Verhoeven
But that's not all!
We've also turned the pages of the other rare books on display. Now on show is the most notorious page in the Nuremberg Chronicle, one of the most famous early print books.
Printed in 1493, the Chronicle was an attempt to relate the history of the Christian world, and as part of its chronology of Popes it depicts a female pontiff called ‘Pope Joan’. The story goes that Joan disguised her sex and became Pope in 855, reigning for two years as John VIII before the truth was revealed when she gave birth during the cross procession.
It’s now known to be entirely fictional, but at the time the story was widely believed and was deeply controversial. Some readers burnt or ripped out the page, others wrote ‘LIES’ in the margin, and at least one reader is known to have drawn a beard on Joan’s face. The Library’s copy is untouched, giving a clear view of Joan’s female features and the child in her arms. It’s a fascinating story, and we’re delighted to be displaying this page of the book for the final weeks of the exhibition.
Finally, you can also see a 1640 map of the (still relatively 'new') New World in Blaeu's famous atlas - and of course, there are still several more prints to display from the exhibition's star attraction, The Birds of America.
Boundless Curiosity runs until Saturday 21 January. After that, it may be some time before these books are on display again - so be sure not to miss it!
The exhibition is presented in partnership with BDO Guernsey.