Our First Book Rediscovered

Over the last year GSA Library has been actively researching the early history of our collections. Greater numbers of researchers are interested in these collections and in the titles that were available for students to consult. Creating inventories of these early collections provides us with insights into what was taught in the School’s early days, and the varying levels of importance that were assigned to different art and design disciplines.

The very first catalogue of the Library is now held in Archives and Collections. It contains two inventories, one for a reference library and one for a lending library. Early entries are written in the hand of then-Headmaster Charles Heath Wilson. We transcribed the catalogue over the summer, making the transcription available to researchers on our Special Collections pages and annotating our catalogue records where appropriate.

We now know that the very first book to be purchased for the School’s Library was The Arabian Antiquities of Spain, written by James Cavanah Murphy and published by Cadell & Davies in 1813. Amazingly, a search of our Bookstore revealed that we still hold this volume, which is very large in size and elaborately bound in red morocco leather with gold-tooling.

Although the manuscript catalogue is undated, a bookplate of the Glasgow School of Ornamental Art (a previous name for GSA) inside the book reveals that it was purchased in 1847. Further manuscript inscriptions within the book proudly proclaim its status as book No. 1 in our collections.

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