Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library holds a large collection of rare books and manuscripts, and is the largest repository of publicly accessible rare books and manuscripts in Canada.
On St. Valentine’s Day 1890, the University of Toronto library was virtually destroyed by fire.
Thereafter, books and manuscripts had accumulated in a room called the ‘Art Cupboard’, consisting of medieval manuscripts and early printed books.
This formed the basis of the rare book collection and was gradually built up by the acquisition of rare materials dispersed in the main university library.
Founded on this collection, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections was established in November 1955 by Robert H. Blackburn.
The collection was not adequately housed until 1973 when the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library was opened, named in honour of Thomas Fisher who played an active role in the public life of the Toronto community.
The Library now holds approximately 600,000 volumes and 2500 linear metres of manuscript holdings.
The rare book and manuscript collection is described by the library's website as “rich and diverse”.
The library describes its great strengths as “the fields of British, European and Canadian literature, philosophy, the history of science and medicine, Canadiana, Hebraica and Judaica, and the history and art of the book.”
Some highlights of the collection include Shakespeare's First Folio (1623), Newton's Principia (1687), and Darwin's proof copy (with annotations) of On the Origin of Species (1859).
The library also holds collections of works by Rudyard Kipling and WH Auden, as well as Aristotle. There is a copy of what may be the earliest extant copy of Questiones in Aristotelis De caelo et mundo (1407) by Albert of Saxony.
The collection includes first and early editions of The Advancement of Learning (1605) and Novum Organum (1607) by Francis Bacon, as well as John Locke’s first known appearance in print - Musarum Oxoniensium Elaiophoria (1654).
One of the most important collections is the works of Lewis Caroll, described by the website as “one of the finest private collections” and “the largest and most valuable single-author collection in the Fisher Library”
The library website also describes its “small but representative selection of early manuscripts”, which includes the Codex Torontonensis (the four Gospels in Greek), circa 1100.
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