The current Reed Gallery exhibition showcases copies of texts which are known in the book collectors’ world as association copies.

The term ‘association copy’ is described in John Carter’s ABC for book collectors as “a copy which once belonged to, or was annotated by, the author; which once belonged to someone connected with the author or someone of interest in his own right; or again, and perhaps most interestingly, belonged to someone peculiarly associated with its contents.”

Like many bibliophiles, the donor of the Reed Collections, Alfred Hamish Reed, was interested in the lives of books, where they came from, and who owned them. In his 1967 autobiography, Reed wrote: “To hold in the hand a book that has been inscribed or written in by some famous person, seems in a fascinating way to bring one nearer to him as nothing else, save an autograph letter, can do.”

In pursuing this interest, Reed amassed a collection of books with inscriptions by their authors, or which showed previous ownership by such writers as Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.

Reed’s donations and later purchases provided the Library with a collection of association books which today numbers more than 1,000 volumes. The collection is divided into three sequences: non-New Zealand material, New Zealand material, and books issued by Reed Publishing.

The exhibition Signed & inscribed: association copies and their owners thus showcases a selection of books highlighting some of the association copies in the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection. These include a copy of the sixth edition of Richard Knolles’ The Turkish history (1687), inscribed in late life by famed diarist, naval officer and bibliophile Samuel Pepys; Charles Dickens’ own copy of Charles Waterton’s Essays on natural history, chiefly ornithology, which Dickens utilised for his depiction of Grip the raven in Barnaby Rudge; and Bibles once owned by the explorer and missionary David Livingstone, and D.M. Stuart, first minister of Knox Church, Dunedin.

An additional reason for bringing these Association Copies to light is so that visitors familiar with the signatures and handwriting of the former owners will contact the Rare Books Librarian should any appear wrongly attributed. Reed purchased these titles in good faith, and although he frequently sought scholarly verification for autographs, objective confirmation is always welcome