The John Rylands Library, Manchester holds one of the largest collections of Aldine editions in the world. There are 127 editions known to have been printed by Aldus Manutius from 1495 to 1515, of which the library is missing only seven very rare and minor items. There is also a virtually complete collection of all the publications of the Aldine Press from 1515 to 1598.
The core of this collection comes from George John 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834), who amassed a huge private collection of early printed books which was then purchased by Mrs Rylands from the 5th Earl in 1892. Spencer’s Aldine collection was housed separately at Spencer House in London, along with his outstanding collection of incunabula.
More books were added when the John Rylands Library merged with the University of Manchester Library in 1972. Professor Richard Copley Christie had presented his collection to the University in 1901. It includes an unrivaled set of virtually all the Greek texts published in the 15th and 16th centuries, together with a very substantial collection of Aldines. Christie also acquired over 50 counterfeit Aldines printed at Lyon between 1502 and 1527, some of which are rarer than genuine editions.
The library started a project in July 2010 to reorganise, rehouse and recatalogue the collection. This has included moving copies previously dispersed elsewhere in the collections, bringing the total to about 2,000 volumes which represent about 1,200 editions. The collection has been boxed and minor repairs completed where necessary.
By the end of February 2012 around 1,300 volumes will have detailed descriptions on the library catalogue, following internationally recognised standards for rare books cataloguing, including information on editors, translators, inscriptions, annotations, previous owners, bindings and reference to the standard bibliographies (Renouard and Ahmanson-Murphy).
Highlights from the collection include;
· A substantial number of copies printed on vellum. These are almost all ornately illuminated and form valuable source material for the study of Italian book decoration.
· A significant number of books have evidence of previous ownership, including a number from the library of Jean Grolier, as well as books owned by Francis II, Henri II, Cardinal Antoine Granvelle, Pietro Bembo and Agostino Barbarigo. There are also copies owned by later scholars including Richard Brunck and Antoine Augustin Renouard.
· Nineteen Aldine editions and variants of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of Courtesy) printed between 1528 and 1553
· More than 150 counterfeit Aldines, mainly printed at Lyon.
· An important group of documents printed by Paulus Manutius for the Accademia Veneziana.
Collection & Research Services Manager (Printed Books)