British Book Collector's Private Treasures Now Public Trust

Courtesy of the University of Chicago Press

A British Book Collector: Rare Books and Manuscripts in the R.E. Hart Collection, Blackburn Museum and Gallery was published by the University of London Press and is distributed in the U.S. by the University of Chicago Press as Something for my Native Town: Recent discoveries and new directions in the R.E. Hart Collections of the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.

By most accounts, Robert E. Hart (1878-1946) was a private man. A ropemaker by trade, the Blackburn-based bibliophile quietly nourished a desire to collect magnificent examples of early printed books and medieval artifacts. By the time of his death, Hart had collected 21 medieval manuscripts, 50 incunabula, over 1,000 books from before 1801, in addition to a Torah scroll, papyri, and Assyrian clay tablets from 200 BCE. To say Hart accumulated a treasure trove under the radar is a bit of an understatement, but his donation of his entire collection to the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery in Blackburn, England -- one of the first built expressly for the purpose of acquiring and exhibiting materials outside of London -- ensured that future generations might someday be able to provide a greater understanding of the human condition.

Courtesy of the University of Chicago Press

Now, the recently published A British Book Collector: Rare Books and Manuscripts in the R.E. Hart Collection, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery (Published by the University of London Press; distributed in the U.S. by the University of Chicago Press as Something for my Native Town...) offers readers an in-depth look at the man, his collection, and his motivations. Scholars, professors, and curators specializing in the history of the book examine the materials housed at in the Hart collection. His gifts remained safely ensconced in the library vaults until 1962, when the Library published an introduction to the archives, but it would be another fourteen years before the public really had a sense of the richness of this collection, when an exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester mentioned the Hart collection in its catalogue. This volume is a full appreciation of the collection and of the man who formed it.

Published as a sturdy, 200-page paperback (a pleasant surprise for this reader) and fully illustrated with color prints, A British Book Collector is both an ode to a devoted bibliophile and a robust argument for the importance these primary treasures serve as beacons for understanding world cultures.