The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford is one of the world’s greatest treasures. Soon after the library was opened to scholars in 1602, benefactor Sir Thomas Bodley arranged with London’s Stationers’ Company to deposit a copy of every book printed in England there. These were securely housed in the library, and not allowed to circulate to borrowers. Not even King Charles I of England could convince the librarians to break this rule. Today, the library holds more than 11 million items in its collections, including rare manuscripts and unique copies of early printed books.
From its earliest years, donations and gifts were made to the library that increased the size of the collections and added luster to the Bodleian’s international reputation as a center of learning and scholarship. One of the library’s early donors was Elias Ashmole (1617-1692). A great bibliophile and collector, Ashmole was also a serious student of alchemy. When he died, he left funds to the University to set up a museum and library. Into this museum went his collections of natural objects, ancient coins and pottery, and hundreds of books and manuscripts. In 1858, the contents of Ashmole’s library were offered to the Bodleian. The books were catalogued, and the manuscripts were numbered and given the designation “Ashmole manuscripts.”
A manuscript with the description “Anthropologia, or a treatis containing a short description of Man in two parts: the first Anatomical, the second Psychological” was tagged as Ashmole Manuscript 782. Its contents, and its current whereabouts, are unknown. Perhaps it was entered into the catalogue by mistake. Perhaps a librarian’s closer inspection revealed it was a printed book, and it was sent on to another part of the library for cataloging. Then again, it might simply be mis-shelved.
Similar “lost books” turn up regularly in libraries and houses all over the world. To preserve and protect books like Ashmole 782, we need to support libraries and the skilled librarians who help us locate the books we want to read. You can help by renewing your library card. Write to your politicians and tell them how important your local library is to your community. Become a friend of the Bodleian Library, or another of the world’s great repositories of learning and ideas.