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Heinrich Khunrath, Alchemical Manuscript (early 17th century). Latin MS 82.


Alchemy, deriving from the Arabic word al-kimia, was the medieval philosophy and practice which sought to turn base metal into gold, to achieve ultimate wisdom and to discover the elixir of life.

It was a mixture of astrology, proto-science, mysticism, philosophy and charlatanism.

This manuscript contains extracts from various alchemical texts, with numerous diagrams and symbols.

There is also a series of large folding copper-plates designed by Heinrich Khunrath (1560–1605) of Leipzig.

The volume is dedicated to 'I D', i.e. the celebrated Dr John Dee (1527–1609), mathematician, astrologer, and antiquary, who was a warden of the collegiate church of Manchester, which later became Manchester Cathedral.

Alison Uttley, Manuscript Diary (1956). AJU/3/1/24.


Alison Uttley (1884–1976), best known as a writer of children's fiction, was born Alice Jane Taylor on a farm in Derbyshire.

The rural surroundings of her childhood inspired much of her work, including the animal stories featuring such characters as Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig.

In 1903 she won a scholarship to study physics at the University of Manchester, and three years later she became only the second woman Honours graduate of the University.

She wrote over 100 books to support herself and her son, after her husband's death in 1930.

In 1994 the Library purchased forty of her detailed diaries, 1932–1971, which contain meticulous accounts of her daily life and comments on events in the wider world, such as the Suez Crisis of 1956.

John Gould and R. Bowdler Sharpe, The Birds of New Guinea and the Adjacent Papuan Islands: including many new species recently discovered in Australia, 5 vols (London: H. Sotheran & Co., 1875-88). R1858.


John Gould was arguably the greatest nineteenth-century portrayer of birds, but he was also a serious ornithologist as well as an artist, serving as the curator and 'preserver' at the Zoological Society's museum in London.

Gould progressed from depicting and describing the familiar birds of Britain and Europe to cover increasingly exotic locations. The Birds of New Guinea was completed after his death in 1881 by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum.

Their studies of birds of paradise brought a 'scientific' understanding of these magnificent and hitherto mysterious birds to the West.

Publius Vergilius Maro, Bucolica, Georgica et Aeneis (Birmingham: John Baskerville, 1757). 3581.


The Library holds one of the world's finest collections of the works of Classical authors.

There are, for instance, seventeen editions of Virgil's works printed before 1501.

John Baskerville is regarded as England’s premier printer of the eighteenth century, and this first product of his press is generally considered his finest.

Baskerville's Virgil was produced in two formats: this version is illustrated with plates from John Ogilby's seventeenth-century translation. The plate shown here illustrates the famous 'Trojan Horse', which finally broke the defences of Troy after ten years' siege by the Greeks.

Fountains Abbey Cartulary (15th century). Latin MS 224.


This is one of five volumes containing copies of charters that recorded donations of land, property and services to the great Cistercian Abbey of Fountains in Yorkshire.

Fountains was one of the wealthiest houses in England.

These charters enabled the abbey to defend its legal claim to hold these properties in case of subsequent disputes over ownership.

In some cases monastic houses created fictitious charters, to replace lost documents or to strengthen their claims to certain rights, property and privileges.

French Revolution Proclamations (1789-99). Proclamations, Box 10.


The Library's collection of publications relating to French history throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras is considered one of the finest in the world.

As well as contemporary newspapers, periodicals and extensive coverage of the period by later historians, there are about 15,000 proclamations, broadsides, and other politically and socially important documents.

An example is a proclamation of the National Assembly, entitled 'Loi relative aux Droits Féodaux' and dated 28 August 1792. It concerns the Revolutionary government's attempts to eradicate the feudal system, which had dominated French society since medieval times.

Johann von Cube, Gart der Gesundheit (Mainz: [Peter Schoeffer], 1485). 16032.


The value of herbal preparations was well known to practitioners of ancient and medieval medicine, and it was therefore natural that printed manuals of herbalism should appear in the fifteenth century.

It was not until 1481, however, that the first illustrated printed herbal made its appearance.

This more naturalistic work of four years later, containing 379 hand-coloured wood-cuts, may be the first with a claim to both textual and visual accuracy.

The herb illustrated here is mandrake, or mandragora.

George Ormerod, The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester (London: printed for Lackington, Hughes. Harding, Mavor, and Jones, 1819). 18264.


George Ormerod (1785–1873) was born in Manchester and educated at Oxford.

He inherited a large estate in south Lancashire, which enabled him to devote his life to antiquarian pursuits, and in particular to the study of the history of Cheshire.

His most famous work, The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, appeared in ten parts, forming three volumes, between 1816 and 1819; it incorporated the work of the seventeenth-century antiquary Sir Peter Leycester.

Mrs Rylands paid to have this copy, like many of the Library's other county histories, embellished with hand-coloured coats of arms.

Thomas Helsby revised and enlarged the History for a second edition published in parts between 1875 and 1882. It remains the standard history of Cheshire.

Wenceslaus Hollar's Drawing Book (1626-52). English MS 883.


This sketch-book contains scores of landscape drawings by the great Czech-born artist-etcher, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–77).

Most are executed in pen and ink, but a number are in pencil and one or two in red crayon.

The majority of drawings are views of towns along the Rhine in Germany (including Cologne and Stuttgart) and the Netherlands.

The two earliest views are of Prague (1626 and 1627), while London is the subject of some of the latest (c.1643-5).

A panoramic view of London includes the outlines of old St Paul's Cathedral and the Globe and Rose theatres on the south bank of the Thames.

The sketch-book may once have been owned by the famous diarist John Evelyn.

John Donne, Poems, by J.D. (London: M.F. [Miles Flesher] for John Marriot, 1633). 12038.1.


In contrast to his sermons, only a handful of Donne’s poems came to press before his death in 1631.

This graceful little book is one of the surviving copies of the first edition of the poet’s work, published two years later.

The Library's copy has been 'grangerized' by the addition of seven engraved portraits, including three of Donne, interspersed throughout its pages. The portraits represent the poet at different stages of his life.

The second engraving is by Martin Droeshout and depicts Donne in his shroud.



Kammavācā (undated). Pali MS 1.


Kammavācās are amongst the most important religious works in Burma.

They are concerned with the ceremonies (or ecclesiastical acts) performed by monks on Buddhist holidays.

Every monastery in Burma possesses at least one copy.

Kammavācās were often commissioned by a family when a son entered an order as a novice or was ordained as a monk. In this palm-leaf manuscript the large square Pali Burmese characters are painted in black lacquer on a gold background.

Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. Ltd, Manchester, Locomotive Records, No. 2. R147023.


Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. of Manchester exported steam locomotives to all corners of the British Empire.

These album contains technical data and photographs of hundreds of Nasmyth, Wilson.

The pages shown record details of two engines manufactured in 1928, one for the Bengal & North Western Railway, the other for the Madras & Southern Mahratta Railway.

The firm operated in Patricroft for a century until it was wound up in 1939.

Manchester Ship Canal Co., The Manchester Ship Canal: a pictorial record of its construction, 11th November, 1887, to 1st January, 1894, 2 vols (Manchester, 1894). R65037.


The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal was one of the most ambitious civil engineering projects of the nineteenth century.

These two volumes contain original photographs and notes by G. Herbert Bayley and Horace C. Bayley, which record the progress of constructing the canal over seven years, using a combination of steam-powered machinery, horses and human muscle.

The opening of the canal in 1894 enabled ocean-going vessels to reach Manchester, drastically reducing the costs of importing raw cotton and of exporting cloth, finished cotton goods and machinery.

John Rylands was a major investor in the Canal Company. When he died in 1888 his widow Enriqueta became the chief shareholder of both Rylands & Sons and the Canal Company.

Novum Testamentum Græce (London: 1818), with a handwritten commentary by John Nelson Darby. Christian Brethren Archives, Papers of John Nelson Darby, JND/3.


John Nelson Darby (1800–82) was a noted biblical scholar and one of the founders of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren.

His doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren, and he remains a seminal influence on present-day Christian fundamentalism.

The Library holds one of the most extensive archives in the world relating to the Brethren.

Among the most significant items is Darby's four-volume copy of the Greek New Testament, to which has added his own extensive handwritten commentary.

Pañji-Romance (late 18th or early 19th century?). Javanese MS 16.


The Library's important collection of twenty-six Javanese manuscripts still awaits a scholarly catalogue.

The most visually spectacular item is this version of the story of Pañji, containing a series of tales of the heroic exploits and romantic involvements of a Javanese prince who may have flourished in about the tenth century AD.

Although Pañji has been described as an Eastern counterpart of the Western emperor Charlemagne, it is difficult to prove that any of his exploits are attributable to a real historical person.

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature (London: Longman, 1844). R97511.


William Henry Fox Talbot's Pencil of Nature is considered the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs, and is of immense importance in the history of photography.

The book was intended to promote Talbot's calotype process and to demonstrate the possibilities of the new technology.

He explained: 'the plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.'

The book was issued in six instalments between 1844 and 1846, containing a total of twenty-four calotype prints, each one pasted in by hand. Very few complete copies now exist.

The Rylands copy comprises the first instalment only, containing five photographs.

Account book for the household of Queen Philippa of Hainault (1331-2). Latin MS 235.


This is one of a series of account books held in the John Rylands Library recording the household expenses of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of Edward III.

It is a copy account book, intended as a check on the original accounts, and was held by the Controller of Philippa's household, John de Amewell.

It is of great significance for anyone studying the royal household, systems of patronage and the economy of the court.

One entry (f. 11r) reads: 'To Richard of Oxford, illuminator, for the illumination of two small books, belonging to the Queen, containing various matins of the Virgin with various pictures and large letters with miniatures by his own hands at Westminster: 40 shillings.'

Christina Rossetti, Verses, edited by J.D. Symon (Hammersmith: Eragny Press, 1906). R21794.


Lucien Pissarro, the son of the painter Camille Pissarro, printed thirty-one books at the Eragny Press between 1894 and 1914.

Fourteen titles were printed in the Vale type supplied by Charles Ricketts, but by 1903 Pissarro had designed his own Brook type type, which was cut for him by Edward Prince.

All the illustrations and decorative features were designed by Pissarro and cut on wood by either himself or his wife.

This is one of only ten vellum copies of this work, which was reprinted from the edition of Christina Rossetti's teenage verse published by Gaetano Polidori in 1847.

Studies of the Miao People, 2 vols (c.1750). Chinese MS 398.


These volumes are of particular importance to students of Chinese history and culture.

Unlike many of the Library's Chinese illustrated books, they were not produced for the Western market but were compiled for the information of indigenous contemporaries.

They describe, in words and illustrations, the beliefs, lifestyles, customs, food, costume and trades of the Miao people, who had recently been incorporated into the Chinese empire.

It is possible that these volumes contain information which is not duplicated in modern Chinese records.

English Bookbinding. The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane (Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1893). Tregaskis Collection no. 23.


The booksellers James and Mary Lee Tregaskis sent seventy-six copies of a small book entitled The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane (1893), from William Morris's Kelmscott Press, to bookbinders around the world, who were each commissioned to supply a binding of their own choice.

Seventy-three copies were returned and were displayed in an exhibition mounted in London in 1894. Enriqueta Rylands bought the entire collection.

This binding in green crushed morocco was designed by Dugald MacColl and executed by his daughter Elizabeth. It shows a remarkable freedom in the use of gold tooling, with the design carrying over from the front cover to the back.

'Tim Bobbin', The Passions: Humourously Delineated (London: J. Hayes for Edward Orme, 1810). R51705.


John Collier (1708–86), dialect poet and caracaturist, was born in Urmston near Manchester and worked as an assistant schoolmaster at Milnrow.

In 1746 he published his first and most famous work, A View of the Lancashire Dialect, or, Tummus and Mary, under the name Tim Bobbin.

Later he turned to caricature; he both wrote and illustrated the Human Passions Delineated, which first appeared in 1773. 

This 1810 edition with colour plates softened his caricatures. Dialect scholars believe that Collier's version of south-east Lancashire dialect was the closest surviving English relative of Anglo-Saxon.

Traditions concerning 'Alī (c.AH 967 / 1560 AD). Arabic MS 7.


This beautiful manuscript was probably written in Pakistan or north-west India around 1560 AD.

It contains a collection of one hundred sayings attributed to 'Alī bin Abī Ṭālib, son-in-law of the Prophet Muḥammad.

The Arabic text is written in gold letters and in beautiful naskhī characters; the Persian translation is in black ink using a fine ta'līq script.

Lord Crawford acquired the manuscript when he purchased the late Nathaniel Bland's collection in 1866. Bland was a wealthy scholar of Persian and Arabic, who took up gambling and lost his fortune before committing suicide in Belgium.

Aeschylus, Tragedies (Glasgow: Andreas Foulis, 1795). 9334.


Roger Payne, the greatest of eighteenth-century English bookbinders, was a temperamental eccentric, memorably described by T.F. Dibdin: 'His appearance bespoke either squalid wretchedness or a foolish and fierce indifference to the received opinions of mankind. His hair was unkempt, his visage elongated, his attire wretched, and the interior of his workshop... harmonised but too justly with the general character and appearance of its owner.'

He was, however, an artistic genius in his own craft, attracting many distinguished patrons including the second Earl Spencer.

The binding shown here, which came to the John Rylands Library with the Spencer Collection of printed books in 1892, is regarded as his masterpiece.

Yūsuf Zulaykhā (AH 1230 / 1815 AD). Pashto (Afghan) MS 15.


This is a translation of Jāmī's Persian poem Yūsuf Zulaykhā, which was based upon the Biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife.

It was copied by Mullā Walī Muḥammad for Rustam Khān Ačakzai.

It is written in a fine naskhī script in Pashto, the eastern Iranian language spoken by the Pashtun in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and now one of the official languages of Afghanistan.

The manuscript bears the seal of the Afghan governor of Kashmir.