Dunedin City Library holds one of the largest collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in New Zealand, second only to the Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Libraries.
The majority of these manuscripts were purchased by Alfred Hamish Reed (1875–1975), who acquired his first medieval manuscript (a fifteenth-century collection of theological treatises; Reed MS7) in 1919. Reed donated his collection to the Dunedin Public Library in 1948, and continued to buy manuscripts and advised successive City Librarians in developing the collection throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After his death, the Library honoured Reed’s wishes as outlined in his Deed of Gift (updated October 1950) by continuing to develop through his bequest what is known as the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection.
Reed was a devout Christian, and his manuscripts collection is focused on the Bible and liturgical works. The Reed Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts Collection today numbers twelve bound manuscripts and more than sixty leaves and fragments, chiefly from Western Europe, and ranging in date from the late ninth to the sixteenth century.
The current Reed Gallery exhibition A Splendid Gathering: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts from the Reed Collection showcases a range of items from Reed’s stylistically and chronologically diverse collection. The term 'gathering' refers to a folded section of vellum or paper leaves which could be bound together with other gatherings to form a book.
Highlights include: a leaf and bifolium from a ninth-century Bible in Carolingian script (RMMF1); a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the Wycliffe Gospels (MS6) and a leaf from a Wycliffite Lectionary (RMMF20) dated to the same time period; a portion of a fourteenth-century Bible (MS4a), identified by Christopher de Hamel as having been written in the Cistercian Abbey of Byszewo (or Koronowo), near Gdansk, the first manuscript of Polish origin to be identified in New Zealand; and a Dutch Book of Hours (MS10) brought to New Zealand by Walter Mantell in 1840, one of the earliest medieval manuscripts to be transported to the colony, which remained in private hands until purchased by the Library in 1987.
A Splendid Gathering runs from 7 August to 25 October 2020 in the Reed Gallery.