Books. Inordinately valuable.

The staff of the University of Alberta Press had a treat on Monday: a visit to the Bruce Peel Special Collections!

Linda Quirk, Assistant Special Collections Librarian, and Kevin Zak, Exhibitions & Collections Assistant, spent an hour showing us a range of treasures and telling us about the general operations of the Bruce Peel Special Collections that houses and archives rare books on campus. No food and drink are allowed inside the locked doors, but we didn’t need white gloves either—just a thorough hand-washing was enough to allow us to touch some books Linda pulled out of the massive collection.

Among the treasures we saw were:

  • a 4000-year old clay cuneiform tablet
  • a book written in Tamil, inscribed on palm leaves—apparently rare copies of these can still be found in little markets in the Caribbean if you are lucky
  • a triple-decker first edition of Pride and Prejudice by “the author of Sense and Sensibility”
  • one of the 15 copies of Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter’s Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein
  • an atlas from 1587 that had the first-ever map of North America, in full colour

But the most well-known book we viewed—and a lot more valuable than the above mentioned items—was a book by Johannes Tinctor, known as Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians, from 1465. This “foul treatise” is the first known book that deals with how to identify and persecute witches. Its three sister manuscripts are held in Paris, Brussels, and Oxford. No wonder that it has garnered much media attention.

There are countless treasures and fascinating stories to go with them at the Bruce Peel Special Collections. Check out their website for more information and to browse their digital exhibitions. Be sure to mark your calendar for future exhibits, which continue to become ever more extensive and interactive. We promise you will be fascinated!