Special Collections COVID‑19 settings
Special Collections is open for research, learning, and teaching by appointment during weekdays.
In-person access to the collections, reading room and De Beer gallery is currently available to University of Otago staff and students only. Wear a mask and maintain physical distancing to keep everyone safe.
Access at a distance via email or zoom continues to be available to everyone – particularly if you can’t currently visit us in person.
To make an appointment or ask a question, please contact:
Check the Special Collections Facebook page for updates and news:
Special Collections (SC) contains books and manuscripts which span the earliest examples of European printing (1473) through to modern first editions and publications from the 20th and 21st centuries. All aspects of the book, its history and production are highlighted: print, paper, typography, bindings, illustrations, design, publishing history, provenance, and book collecting.
Finding material in Special Collections
- Otago Library Catalogue
- Card Catalogue – At Special Collections in Central Library. Use for pre-1800 English imprints acquired prior to 1985.
- Rare Books Shelf List – At Special Collections in Central Library. Pre-1800 imprints are usefully arranged by country and date of publication.
The pre-1800 book collection is shelved using formats (octavo, quarto, folios) and place of imprint arranged chronologically. The Special Collections Stack (in the main post-1800 items) is arranged by Library of Congress classification. A small unpublished manuscript sequence (medieval manuscripts to Wittgenstein typescripts) is arranged by running numbers.
- Monday to Friday – 8:30am to 5.00pm
- Saturday, Sunday and public holidays – closed
Enquiries and consultations
Items in the Special Collections may be consulted upon presentation of approved identification.
Classes and tours are available for senior students and special interest groups.
Please address enquiries relating to the Collections to:
Special Collections Librarian
University of Otago Library
PO Box 56
65 Albany Street
De Beer Collection
The de Beer Collection comprises over 7,000 pre- and post-1800 books and manuscripts that showcase aspects of European civilization and culture from the Renaissance to the end of the 20th century. It enjoys international importance as a research resource and has international standing in areas of 17th century English history, politics and philosophy, 18th century poetry, travel and guide books, the history of horticulture, and European architecture, especially Roman antiquities and baroque Rome. Major strengths include works by and about John Evelyn, and works by and about John Locke. Foreign language works in Italian, French and German also feature. This collection is a developing one.
Charles Brasch Collection
Charles Brasch’s personal library of 7,500 books was donated to the University in 1973. As a New Zealand poet, editor, and patron, his library reflects his diverse interests, with an emphasis on literature, art, history and religion. Brasch’s Library is particularly rich in 20th century poetry and New Zealand literature, with many of the latter presentation or signed copies by well-known New Zealand writers: Janet Frame, Frank Sargeson, James K Baxter. Overseas strengths include works by Robert Graves, W. B. Yeats, Eric Gill, Rainer Maria Rilke, and modern 20th century artists. Brasch also contains a sizeable collection of ephemeral pamphlets. This collection is a static one.
In 1965, Canon William Arderne Shoults’s private library came to the University of Otago Library on permanent loan from Selwyn College, Dunedin. The collection of about 4,500 volumes, mostly pre-1800 imprints, is rich in history and theology and includes fine examples of Greek and Roman classics by early printers such as Aldus Manutius, Robert Estienne, and Christopher Plantin. Science, travel, philology, and Middle Eastern languages are also well represented. One particular strength is the 27 incunables (pre-1501 printings), with a unique English Rood and Hunt binding covering de Lyra’s Commentaries (1471), with fragments bound in printed by William Caxton, England’s first printer. Shoults also includes a small manuscript collection. One (MS 13: Book of Morals, in three parts) quite possibly contains the oldest paper in New Zealand, with watermarks identified as used at fifteen different places between 1353 and 1391 A.D. Shoults is a static collection which complements the strengths in de Beer.
James Hogg Collection
Some 100 volumes associated with James Hogg, (1770-1835), the Scottish poet known as the Ettrick Poet. Many of the titles were part of Hogg’s own library, presented to the University by Hogg’s descendants, the Gilkison family of Dunedin. There are also some original manuscript materials. This collection is a developing one.
Joseph William Mellor Collection
The Mellor Collection contains articles, manuscripts and books from the library of Joseph Mellor (1869-1938), an eminent chemist, clay technologist, and graduate of Otago University. Present is his 1912 edition of Modern Inorganic Chemistry, numerous family photographs, autographs and documents from famous late 19th and 20th century scientists, clay and ceramic publications, and samples of his work as a cartoonist. It is a static collection.
John McGlashan Collection
88 titles (100 vols.) from the library of John McGlashan (1802-1864) an early Otago politician, lawyer and educationalist. McGlashan's pre-1800 imprints are kept in the de Beer Collection.
Special Collections Stack Collection (Post–1800)
This collection comprises over 3,500 books which are rare, valuable or fragile. They include works transferred from general stack as well as books that complement the older materials in de Beer and Shoults Collections. Special Collections Stack includes modern commentaries and works on or about John Evelyn and John Locke, costly facsimiles, guidebooks, and limited edition and private press publications, such as New Zealand’s Caxton Press. Among the 20th century literary works there is a large collection of works by poet Robert Graves. There are also works by Graves’s contemporaries such as W.H. Auden, E. M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon and Stephen Spender. New publications from the 21st century also feature. Illustrative works (engravings, woodcuts) include works by New Zealander John Buckland Wright, Eric Gill, and Robert Gibbings. This collection is a developing one.
Pulp Fiction Literature Collection
The Pulp Fiction Collection comprises 850 titles, mainly published in Australia by Sydney-based publishers as a result of a publishing embargo on the US based ‘pulps’ before and during the Second World War. Representative authors in this field of popular culture include ‘Larry Kent’, Marc Brody, and Carter Brown. The collection was purchased from a collector in Australia in 2005. This collection is a developing one.
Science Fiction: Fastier Collection
This collection comprises some 1200 titles mainly paperback of hard science featuring Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and a large run of science fiction journals, Analog, Nebula etc.
Bibliography Room Archive
The printing presses (a Columbian, an Albion, and a Vandercook) have been operating in the University Library since 1961. There is also an etching press. Due to the efforts of Dr Keith Maslen, two samples of every item (books, posters, ephemeral works) that was hand-printed are kept in the Bibliography Room Archive. Sample printings from Dr Shef Roger’s English course are also archived. The Printer in Residence programme, initiated in 2003, produces works that are added to the Archive. In 2005, the Bibliography Room imprint was changed to Otakou Press. This collection is a developing one.
Medical Rare Books
The Monro Collection comprises manuscripts and books amassed by the Monro family: Alexander (father; primus), Alexander (son; secundus); and Alexander (grandson; tertius). The Monro dynasty held the Chair of Anatomy at Edinburgh University from 1720 to 1846. This Collection was once at the Health Sciences Library, and has been recently transferred. In addition to this collection, there is also the Truby King Library.
A small number of unpublished materials are arranged in a running number sequence. This collection includes medieval manuscripts, Eastern manuscripts (Arabic, Turkish), autograph letters (Humboldt, Darwin, Zweig), typescripts (Wittgenstein) and ship’s logs. One important manuscript is a copy of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry in Arabic, c.1400. This collection is a developing one.
This collection contains a small number of prints, broadsheets, maps and photographs. Many have been donated to Special Collections. This collection is a developing one.
Purchases for the collections
Academic staff are invited to make suggestions about purchases. Antiquarian booksellers' catalogues are available for consultation from the Special Collections Librarian.