The George Reid Collection

Examples of fine book-binding from the George Reid Collection

Examples of fine book-binding from the George Reid Collection

In 1903 the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust opened Pittencrieff House Museum and one of its principal displays was of books, lent by George Reid, a local linen manufacturer.


In 1910 the Carnegie Trust acquired outright ownership of the Collection and in 1921 it was placed in the Special Collections Room of the newly-extended Central Library. Although the Trustees' formal responsibility for the Collection ended in 1930, when ownership was transferred to the Town Council, they continue to demonstrate an interest in its welfare.


A donation of £2,500, in the library's centenary year, 1983, helped towards the cost of conservation and restoration work on some of the more important items.


The George Reid Collection, though small, consists of material which is more often found in large institutional libraries, and its presence in Dunfermline is a significant contribution to the town's cultural and heritage resources.



George Reid


Dunfermline, in the second half of the nineteeenth century, boasted a number of citizens with developed tastes in design, fine art and antiquarian subjects.


One of these was George Reid, a partner in the firm Andrew Reid and Company. When ill-health forced him to relinquish an active part in his business he devoted much of his retirement to extended travel on the Continent where he built up his collection of rare books.


Towards the end of his life, a large part of this collection, consisting mostly of illuminated manuscripts, was handed over to the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Throughout his life George Reid continued to contribute towards cultural activities in Dunfermline. As well as donating books to Pittencrieff House Museum, he was a founder member of the Fine Art Association and the Archaeological Society. He died in Edinburgh on 19th October 1910 in his seventieth year.




Although George Reid collected books from the monastic manuscripts of the thirteenth century to the private press books of his own day, his chief passion was for medieval illuminated manuscripts.


The Dunfermline Collection includes six of these: three large service books and three Books of Hours.


The finest manuscript is a Missalle Romanum, written for use in the bishopric of Munster in Westphalia around the middle of the fifteenth century.  Bound in pigskin-covered boards, it is almost complete and is very beautiful with its initials and borders decorated in blue, red, green and violet, as well as generous use of gold leaf.


The other service books are less complete and have obviously been raided at some time for their miniatures and initials. They consist of an Antiphoner and a Gradual, both Italian, the former dating from around 1250, thus making it the oldest book in the collection, and the latter from sometime in the second half of the fourteenth century. The Graduale has suffered more damage - over forty plates are missing and some others have been mutilated - but it is still very impressive with its large coloured initials and music notation in red and black.


Of the Books of Hours, two are Italian, the first one written around 1450 and the other dating from the early sixteenth century. The third and finest Book is an early fifteenth century French manuscript with some particularly attractive initials and ivy-leaf borders. On the final leaf one owner has written '' Ce present livre appartien à moi Gabriel Robin qui n'est ni Capusin ni Prêtre ni a quêre envie de l'être.'' (''This book belongs to Gabriel Robin who is neither Friar nor Priest nor has much hope of being one.'')


Early Printed Books


The early printed books in the collection include two very fine large folios. The earlier is an edition of Thomas Aquinas' Summae Theologicae  printed in Mainz in 1472. The second, still in its original binding, is a Supplementum  by Nicolaus de Auximo produced by the famous Nuremberg printer, Anton Koburger, in 1478.


Another book of particular interest is a copy of Euclid's Elementa Geometriae printed by Erhard Ratdolt in Venice in 1482. It contains elegant woodcut initial letters and was the first book to feature printed mathematical diagrams.


Other examples of early printing include two small books produced by German printers in 1495, bound together: a French Book of Hours printed on vellum with coloured illustrations; and a Latin Bible, possibly the first book issued from the press of the scholar Johann Froben of Basle.


Other Books


All the works in the Reid Collection are of interest but a few merit particular attention because of their fine illustrations.


An attractive example is the Book of Hours printed in Paris in 1525. The woodcut illustrations and decorative borders designed by Geoffrey Tory are deservedly famous.


Another fascinating volume is an Isolario, or island book, by the Italian geographer, Benedetto Bordone, printed in Venice in 1547. This illustrated navigational aid for sixteenth century seafarers claimed to be ''an Account of all the islands in the World''.


In some respects the most curious book in the collection is also the most modern. This is an imitation of a fifteenth century French Book of Hours woven entirely in silk damask in Lyons in 1877. A remarkable piece of work, it obviously attracted George Reid because it appealed both to his professional interest in textile manufacture and to his private obsession with fine books.

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