The Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection contains several thousand letters and other manuscript documents from the seventeenth to early twentieth century. These were acquired by A. H. Reed over a sixty-year period of collecting, and obtained in many cases by commissioned agents in London who bought up unsold lots at auctions and then shipped them out to New Zealand. In this way Reed was able to gather a range of letters from artists, playwrights, musicians, authors, presidents, statesmen, clergy, scientists, and the nobility.

Material from Reed’s autograph letters and manuscripts collection have played a supporting role in many Reed Gallery exhibitions. Here, in ‘Our Will & Pleasure’, they take centre stage in an exhibition designed to highlight this collection by showcasing a selection of original letters and documents written or signed by members of the royal houses of Great Britain from the House of Stuart to the current House of Windsor. The exhibition is timed to coincide with the wider events marking the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the second longest reigning British monarch after Queen Victoria (1819–1901).

The manuscripts on display range in date from a 1704 document signed by Queen Anne (1665–1714) to the signatures of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, from their visit to the Dunedin Public Library on 26 January 1954. Documents by members of the Hanoverian line comprise the majority of items on exhibit. These manuscripts include a 1711 letter written by George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover (1660–1727), before he was crowned King George I of Great Britain; two documents signed by George II (1683–1760) concerning a court martial and the appointment of a secretary to the Order of the Thistle; a short note in the hand of George III (1738–1820) and letter by his Queen consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818); and a royal pardon dated 18 March 1842 signed by Queen Victoria.

Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family have made numerous visits to New Zealand beginning with the 1953–4 tour of the country, and a variety of ephemera commemorating these occasions is on display. Some of the items predate the 1953–4 visit, such as the souvenir programme and invitation relating to the 1920 visit made by the Prince of Wales, Edward David (1894–1972), later Edward VIII (then Duke of Windsor), and the 1927 souvenir programme of the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Kent.

These royal documents and related publications are supplemented by official and private letters by such statesmen as Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1676–1745), regarded as Britain’s first Prime Minister; William Pitt the Younger (1759–1806), elected the youngest Prime Minister at the age of twenty-four; and William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), Britain’s oldest Prime Minister who served in the position four times between 1868 and 1894, more than any other person. A small selection of books, including a theological text presumed to be from the library of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales (1594–1612), and two copies of the Holy Bible published in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Elizabeth II the previous year, round out this rather regal exhibition.