Rare treasures linked to Robert Burns, Bonnie Prince Charlie and JK Rowling come together for a new celebration of Scottish history

Helen Vincent, Head of Rare Books, with the National Library’s copy of Gutenberg’s Bible, which is on display in her new Treasures gallery. Photo: Neil Hanna

The groundbreaking contributions of violinist and composer James Scott Skinner, publisher George Thomson and explorer Isobel Wylie Hutchison are explored in a new dedicated ‘Treasures’ gallery at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Visitors will be able to see one of the oldest books published in Scotland, over 500 years ago, a 15th century Gaelic manuscript and some of the earliest color film footage shot in Scotland, which documents the trek in the 1900s. 1930.

Register to our daily newsletter

The newsletter mute the noise

Modern cultural figures like author JK Rowling, poets Hannah Lavery and Jackie Kay, filmmaker Mark Cousins ​​and singer Emma Pollock are all featured in a series of exhibits, which are largely drawn from the extensive collections and library archives.

Library curator Lizzie Fuller installs a 16th century Timothy Pont map detailing most of the River Clyde drainage basin. Credit: Neil Hanna

The new Treasures gallery brings together for the first time rare books, maps, documents, photographs and films that have rarely been displayed to the public before. Its opening was scheduled for summer 2020, but was delayed by the Covid pandemic.

Open to the public on Friday, it features Robert Burns’ letter containing the lyrics to his most recorded love song, Ae Fond Kiss, a first edition copy of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and a letter to its publisher Scottish. , an account of the Battle of Culloden, scraps of clothing believed to have been Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald.

Some of the rarest books from the National Library’s collections are on permanent display for the first time, including one of 49 surviving copies of a Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in Europe with movable type in the 1440s , and some of the few surviving books created by early Scottish publishers Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar, who set up a printing press in Edinburgh’s Cowgate in 1508.

Dora Petherbridge, Curator of International Collections at the National Library, said: “We are really delighted to be able to open this space, as it has allowed us to bring out of our piles treasures from all our collections that we have wanted to be able to show to the public for years.

The Treasures exhibition at the National Library sheds light on the origins of the famous love song ‘Ae Fond Kiss, the words for which Robert Burns wrote in a letter to Agnes Maclehose in 1791.

“We have books, manuscripts, maps, old sound recordings, old films and modern material, which we have kept for years and preserve forever. We can finally show them to the public in a gallery space permanent.

“We were spoiled for choice, as we have over 30 million objects in our collection, but there are different themes throughout the exhibition, including travel and literature.

“What ties it all together is that we reflect the memory of Scotland and the memory of the nation. It’s an international story we tell, but everything on display relates to Scotland.

The exhibition recalls the long journeys of explorer and botanist Hutchison – who was honored by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for her outstanding contribution to geographical knowledge – through Greenland, the Alaskan North Coast and the Arctic. Canadian in the 19th century.

Curatorial exhibition specialist Ryan Gibson installs the Iona Psalter in the new Treasures Gallery at the National Library of Scotland. Photo: Neil Hanna

It also features one of the many letters exchanged between Beethoven and Thomson, an Edinburgh-based publisher who asked him to write musical accompaniments for Scottish songs.

Among the episodes of Scottish history revisited through archival memorabilia are the 1997 referendum on devolution and the subsequent election campaign to reopen the Scottish Parliament two years later.

The National Library has partnered with Edinburgh art collective Neu! Reekie! to engage today’s artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers to create new work in response to some of the major exhibitions. They include Kapka Kassabova, Harry Josephine Giles, Hannah Lavery, David Kinloch, George Gunn, Kevin Williamson, Meg Bateman, Miriam Gamble, Emma Pollock, Nadine Aisha Jassat and Mark Cousins.

One of the oldest pieces is the Iona Psalter, a decorated bound volume, believed to date back to 1180, which was made for Bethóc ingen Somairle, the first prioress of Iona.

The new Treasures exhibition features archival photographs by Scottish solo explorer, botanist, artist and writer Isobel Wylie Hutchison.

Ms Petherbridge added: ‘I think people will be really interested to see things like the Iona Psalter, one of the earliest manuscripts we have in our collection relating to a woman, and a very old map of Glasgow and of the River Clyde, which is extraordinarily exquisite and detailed.

“We have 30 different translations of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling, which show the impact the book has had on children’s publishing and the history of literature.

“We have so many treasures that we want to share that some of the exhibits will change every year or so, so there will always be something new to see and come back to the gallery.

“We also really wanted to think about treasures of the future as well as treasures of the past, so the exhibition ends with our digital collections. We’re really interested to hear what our visitors would like to see cherished by the National Library and added to our collections.

Aminah Shah, National Librarian of Scotland and Chief Executive of the National Library, said: “As custodians of the nation’s published and recorded memory, we have an unprecedented collection of material.

“The Treasures exhibit gives people a glimpse of the vast collections, many of which are typically stored on the multiple floors beneath them.

Curatorial exhibition specialist Ryan Gibson installs Ludwig van Beethoven-related material in the National Library of Scotland’s new Treasures Gallery. Photo: Neil Hanna

“We are delighted to launch this highly anticipated exhibition, which will give visitors a unique insight into Scotland’s history and its place in the world.”

The Gutenberg Bible was the first book in Europe to be printed with movable type in the 1440s.
The new Treasures gallery opens at the National Library of Scotland on Friday.

James C. Tibbs