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Introduction to Special Collections at the Taylorian

Welcome to the Taylor Institution Library!  The Taylor Institution is the University of Oxford’s library for Modern Foreign Languages.  It was funded by Sir Robert Taylor in a codicil to his will in 1788. Due to his will being contested, the University didn’t have access to the funds until 1834, when it was also considering the creation of a new art gallery – now the Ashmolean Museum. Therefore, as far as the library is concerned, the plans for the library came first, and the Ashmolean Museum is merely an add on…

Above: The Taylor Institution, University of Oxford (Architect C.R. Cockerell, 1841-45)

The building was completed in 1844. You can read more about the history of the library in the History of the Taylor Institution Library and its Collections blog post, or in this article for the Fabian Handbuch, which also has detailed information about the library’s Special Collections.

The Taylorian is lucky to have its own Special Collections, acquired through donation, and also by purchase.  The library’s LibGuide on Special Collections, from which the following summaries are taken, gives a lot more information.

This video contains an introduction to Special Collections at the Taylorian, including how to access the collections, and how to handle them appropriately.

French Special Collections

The Subject Librarian for French, Nick Hearn, introduces the French Special Collections:

The collections are strong in works of French literature, history and culture, notably of the 17th and 18th centuries, and there are also a good number of earlier printed books. Noteworthy are:

  • 1,000+ volumes formerly owned by Gustave Rudler (1872-1957), Professor of French Literature, including rare C18th editions, Benjamin Constant materials and autographed works by 20th cent authors.
  • The collection of Voltaire and Voltairiana given by Dr Theodore Besterman (d1976), who defrayed much of the cost of the establishment of the Voltaire Room to act as a centre for the study of Voltaire and of the Enlightenment in general.
  • The livre d’artiste collection was presented to the Taylorian in 1986. (On deposit with the Sackler Library.)
  • In 1992 the library received c1,000 v, mostly C18th French novels, the bequest of Professor V Mylne.
  • In 2013 the holdings of the library were further enriched by books from the private library of Richard Sayce – a collection of 430 works from the 16th-18th cent mostly in French but comprising some works in other languages and notable for a number of early editions of Montaigne.

A small manuscript collection includes items by such writers as Flaubert, Gide, Sartre, Giono, as well as autographs and letters.

German Special Collections

The Subject Librarian for German, Emma Huber, gives a short introduction to the German collections in the following video:

Highlights of the German collections include:

  • Fiedler Collection: Donated by H G Fiedler (1862-1945), Professor of German 1907-37, and his daughter, this collection contains texts from the 16th to the 20th cent, one of the earliest being Aliquot nomina propria Germanorum ad priscam etymologiam restituta (Wittenberg 1544), attributed to Martin Luther.
  • Incunabula: The library holds 15 incunabula printed in Germany, of which 5 are in German, including Johann Tauler, Sermonen und historia (Leipzig: Conrad Kachelofen 1498, coming from the dispersed holdings of St. Peter’s Monastery in Erfurt) and Ortolff von Bayrlandt, Arzneibuch (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger 1477). It also has a significant collection of 436 tracts and Flugschriften mainly by Luther with a few by Melanchthon, Hutten, Zwingli, Erasmus and others.

Italian Special Collections

Sandro Botticelli, Illustration to Inferno Canto XV, facsimile Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli zu Dantes Goettlicher Komoedie: nach den Originalen im K. Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1887) Taylor Institution Library: REP.X.55 (plates)
  • Futurist Collection: Futurist-era publications.
  • Finch Collection: Robert Finch (1783-1830), a resident of Italy, bequeathed his large general library to the University (see A catalogue of the books in the Finch collecion, Oxford, 1874). In 1921 the collection was divided among the Bodleian, the Taylor Institution and the Ashmolean Museum. C16th-C18th works held by the Taylorian were originally owned by Finch.
  • Guarini Collection: Multiple editions of the 16th-century pastoral tragicomedy by Battista Guarini, Il pastor fido. Records for Guarini editions held by the Taylor Institution are in the online catalogue.
  • Manuscript Collection: Includes items by Marinetti, Metastasio, and Ungaretti.

Modern Greek Special Collections

Dawkins Collection: The library of the Bywater and Sotheby Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek, R.M. Dawkins (1871-1955), formerly on deposit with the Taylorian from Exeter College and now held with Special Collections at the Weston Library, includes important pre-1800 and early 20th-century items on modern Greece and Albania. This is a unique collection for the study of Modern Greek dialects.

Russian Special Collections

Morfill Collection: The library of the philologist and literary historian W.R. Morfill (1834-1909), the first Oxford Professor of Russian, formerly on deposit from The Queen’s College at the Taylorian, is now held with Special Collections at the Weston Library.

Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Special Collections

  • Martin Collection: In 1895 the library was augmented by more than 1,000 vols mainly of early Spanish and Portuguese works bequeathed by Miss Williamina Mary Martin (1819-1895), including early editions of Cervantes, Calderón and Lope de Vega as well as works on historical and religious topics.
  • Butler Clarke Collection: Henry Butler Clarke (1863-1904) was Taylorian Teacher in Spanish from 1890 to 1894, and Fellow of St. John’s College. His library, consisting of Latin, Arabic and Spanish books on Spanish civilisation before the re-discovery of America, is held by the Taylorian, on deposit from St. John’s College (see F. de Arteaga y Pereira, A catalogue of the portion of the library of H. Butler Clarke, now in the library of St. John’s College, 1906).

Further Reading

History of the Taylor Institution Library and its Collections [blog post]

Fabian Handbuch article on the Taylor Institution Library

Taylor Institution LibGuide on Special Collections

Archives Hub records from the Taylorian

Art UK digitisation of artworks held at the Taylorian

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