Have you ever wondered what happened to some of the oldest books in the world? Or what happens to first editions once the books become New York Times bestsellers? The oldest books are recorded to have been written between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE. The oldest book is noted to be the Diamond Sutra, one of the most influential Buddhist scriptures in East Asia, and a copy of it can be found in The British Library. But what about other books? Turns out, you can find old manuscripts and first editions all over the world. If you love history and books, continue reading to discover where you can find these rare and historical texts!
Shakespeare’s First Folio
William Shakespeare’s First Folio is the first collected publication of Shakespeare’s plays after his death in 1623. Without the folios, we may not have any written record of Shakespeare’s plays today. Copies can be found all over the UK, particularly in his birthplace of Stratford-Upon-Avon, The British Library, and, most recently, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. The Huntington in California even holds a copy. If you loved reading the Bard’s plays while in school, get yourself to one of these museums so that you can experience this piece of history in person.
James Joyce’s Ulysses (and much, much more!)
The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, holds one of the largest collections of old manuscripts and first editions in the entire world. Two brothers, Dr. A.S.W. and Philip, were renowned book dealers and instrumental in creating some of America’s most important libraries. When both men were unwilling to part with their collection upon their deaths, their house was turned into a museum to celebrate the rich history of writing these men retained. They even have the first edition of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, the first edition of Alice in Wonderland, and the first edition of Dracula. The collection of rare books at The Rosenbach is most certainly a book lover’s dream come true.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered to be the most important archaeological find of the 20th century. These Hebrew manuscripts are largely responsible for our modern understanding of the Christian and Jewish Bibles. The scrolls were found in caves on the northwest side of the Dead Sea, lost to time until they were discovered between 1947 and 1956. A majority of the manuscripts are simply fragmented, but that doesn’t make them any less incredible. Those who are lucky enough to travel as far as Israel can view The Dead Sea Scrolls in person at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Hans Christian Anderson Fairytales (and first editions you can buy!)
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Solvang is tucked away into the heart of wine country in California. As far away from Andersen’s hometown of Odense, Denmark, as one can get, this tiny town was created by Danish-Americans that relocated in the early 1900s and longed for a piece of home. Thus, the town also celebrates an important man in Denmark’s history and the father of fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen. The building itself is both a book loft and a museum, separated into sections so as not to disturb book shoppers. Upstairs, you can learn all about Andersen’s life and even see old editions of some of his most famous fairytales. Additionally, there is a case full of numerous first editions that are available for the public to buy. The opportunity to visit this museum and browse first editions would make a book collector extremely happy.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
The Dublin Writers Museum is an underestimated symbol of literary history. Ireland is home to renowned writers, including four Nobel Prize winners. Dublin is even one of UNESCO’s Cities of Literature. Thus, it’s no surprise that the city has a museum dedicated to its writers and filled with first and early editions. One of the most popular books in their collection is an 1804 edition of Gulliver’s Travels. There is even the first edition of Dracula and the first edition of James Joyce’s Pomes Penyeach. Lastly, the museum holds letters and souvenirs from various writers, including Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. Plus, you can always head over to the Guinness Storehouse which is not far from the museum.
If you love the history of books but can’t travel (we are still in a pandemic, after all), check out AbeBooks, a website where collectors can search for and order first editions of various books. Are there any places that house first edition books that didn’t make it onto this list? Let us know!
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