Caring for the New College Library Torah Scroll

A guest post by Valentina Flex, New College Library & Archive Assistant.

In order to ensure the safe and successful decant of collections at New College Library, myself and my fellow Archive and Library Assistants have wrapped (with acid-free tissue paper or Tyvek) and cotton-taping tied particularly fragile objects within the archives in order to stabilise and reinforce them before they move. The preparation for this task involved surveying the collections and taking notes of items in need of special attention. Surveying the items in New College Library archives and assessing the best method of collections care for them made me think about the context of each object’s creation and use. Specifically, I wondered if there were any implications involving certain items in a religious setting that would affect the ways we treat and care for them.

Torah Scroll, New College Library

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New College Library Project Update by the Library & Archive Assistants

New College Library Hall during the General Collection moves to DHT

Post by Jamie Sutherland, New College Library Project Assistant

New College Library moved to its temporary home in David Hume Tower in January 2020. This new space will allow continued access to books and journals from the General Collections while an Estates Project is carried out in  our stunning Mound Place home. The General Collection moves have covered over 3.25km of books and, whilst the project team has been glad to see these securely in their new location, this has only been the first stage of the move project. New College Special Collections, one of the UK’s largest collections of theological rare books and archives, have also been prepared for safe relocation to other secure University sites and specialist off-site storage.

New College Library Hall during the General Collection moves to DHT

Pre-1900 Journals labelled and stabilised with cotton-tape ties ready for the move.

With the General Collections safely relocated to David Hume Tower, the past few months have focused on the even more daunting task of preparing our Special Collections materials. Here are some ongoing tasks which have formed part of this work:

Collections Care: New College Special Collections include a number of rare and wonderful materials which require their own special attention to move and store safely. These include rolled scrolls, glass plate negatives, photograph albums, books bound in animal hide, palm-leaf manuscripts, and even the academic gowns belonging to Thomas Chalmers, the first Principal of New College. Most of our work has focused on securely boxing or wrapping these items ready for the move. This has also given us the opportunity to consider their long-term storage requirements and what we might do to enhance their preservation once they return to their permanent home. As a team, we have been working on creating bespoke boxes and housing arrangements for some of the more unusual items as well as working on research projects to identify the best practices of collections care for particular types of material. Many items also had detached spines and covers which we were determined not to lose during transit. Our older journals were systematically checked for any damage or special care needs and either wrapped in acid-free tissue or ‘stabilised’ with cotton-tape ties to keep them together.

Archive ‘Mapping’: The collections include an extensive archive containing the papers of significant individuals or groups connected to New College, the University and the Church of Scotland. The project has focused on ensuring that these archive materials are fully listed, secured ready for the move, and suitably stored within the University. This began with the major task of identifying and measuring all the archive material. The final figure comes out at over 900 archive boxes and over 1,500 volumes! These figures help us to work out the optimal way of arranging shelving and storage arrangements, balancing collection storage needs with the ever-present concern of saving space. Having this information will also prove useful in the future in allowing us to identify potential rehousing projects such as the work of the Crowdsourcing Conservation Events.

Flat Folio Sequence: Many of the volumes in New College Special Collections are oversized. At the moment, these volumes are stored standing upright on the shelves alongside their smaller companions. Since these books have very heavy text-blocks, storing them upright exerts a lot of pressure on their spines which can cause damage to the book itself as well as risking damage to smaller items on the shelves which could become stuck or crushed between them. The project move has provided us with the opportunity to extract these larger items from the collection and bring them together into a dedicated ‘Flat Folio’ sequence (defined as any item over 42cm in height). These books can now be stored horizontally, which is a far better arrangement from the consideration of collections care. This project has required identifying, listing, and conducting basic collections care work on these items. Our inventory team have also been working on extracting these items ready for the move and updating their records with new temporary call numbers. The new flat folio sequence will contain over 900 volumes to be stored on much improved flat shelving.

Improving Shelf Space: Moving such a large collection poses the difficulty of finding enough shelf space to store it during the project. Whilst approximately two-thirds of the collection is moving to specialist off-site storage, we also have to retain a large portion on campus to facilitate collections care, cataloguing, and readers’ access to high-use material. As part of the project, we have been identifying ways to compact and re-pitch existing shelving in secure University stores to create additional space for the New College collections. Since January, we have successfully created an additional 39 linear metres of shelving which will provide space to store the New College archives and incunabula collection. Once the project has been completed, this space will be available to accommodate future projects or allow room for the acquisition of new Special Collections material.

Bound copies of ‘The Witness’ newspaper, forming part of the new Flat-Folio Sequence in NCL Special Collections

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be dedicating our blog posts to some of the particularly interesting items we have been working on in the New College Library collections. Keep an eye on this blog where we will be posting new case studies and insights into some of these remarkable items and the work which has been ongoing to keep them safe and accessible to future generations.


New College Library Steps Through Time – 23-25 April

Steps Though Time is a project to create a timeline of six display panels to be mounted up the steps into New College Library. This will tell the unique story of New College Library through images of six treasures selected from the library’s rare book, archive and object collections. These images will be set against a timeline of Scottish religious history with an Edinburgh focus.

Students, we want you to help choose the images for the panels! We will be displaying a selection of library treasures over three days in the Funk Reading Room for you to choose from. Continue reading

Given in Good Faith : Making Presbyterian History

If you visit the Given in Good Faith exhibition, currently open at the Centre for Research Collections, you’ll be able to see some of New College Library’s treasures set in the context of the exhibition themes of church history, worship, scripture and science.

For the first of these themes, church history, we chose Special Collections items that demonstrated how New College Library’s historic collections look back to the Free Church of Scotland’s intellectual history and reflect its heritage as a centre of learning for Presbyterian ministry.

Treasures from the Reformation include the first edition of John Calvin (1509-1564)’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. One of New College Library’s iconic items, this guide and inspiration for a new form of Christian life, became a hugely influential work of Protestant theology. Less than a dozen copies of this edition are known to be in existence.

Calvin, Jean. Christiane religionis institutio, totam ferè pietatis summã. Basel: Thomas Platterum & Balthasarem Lasium, 1536. TR.852

Calvin, Jean. Christiane religionis institutio, totam ferè pietatis summã. Basel: Thomas Platterum & Balthasarem Lasium, 1536. TR.852

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‘Given in Good Faith’ exhibition opening next week

GiveningoodfaithWe’re very excited about our forthcoming exhibition, Given in Good Faith, which uses some of New College Library’s treasures to explore themes of church history, worship, science and scripture. From its earliest beginnings in 1843, New College Library was not only a working theological library but also a rare book and manuscript library, and many of the treasures on display were donated to the Library. Items on display will include a first edition of the works of Calvin, a Bible said to be owned by Andrew Melville and an illuminated Hebrew manuscript.

The exhibition recognises the contribution of New College alumni Dr Robert Funk, whose gifts over the last ten years have allowed us to secure, develop and discover these collections for new generations of students and scholars.  It runs 5 April-29 July, at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh Main Library, George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LJ

Christmas is coming at New College Library

We’ve started getting ready for Christmas at New College Library! The Christmas tree is now up in the Funk Reading Room, and we have a display of Christmas carol books from the Hymnology Collections in the entrance to the Library Hall.

The Hymnology Collections grew out of the gift in the 1880s of two thousand hymnbooks from James Thin, the founder of the famous Edinburgh bookshop. This collection has been added to by gift, purchase and the re-organisation of other library books of a similar nature to form the special collection of over five thousand items we have today, which are currently being catalogued online as part of the Funk Donation Projects. Primarily 18th & 19th century printed volumes, the collection covers sacred songs and poetry as well as hymns, including many items intended for children, both for Sunday School and home.

Currently on display we have :

 Hymn 2578Husk, W.H. Songs of the Nativity ; being Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern … London : J.C. Hotten, [1867]. Hymn 2578.



Hymn 2591





Christmas carols, hymns, etc. London : F. Pitman [18–?] Hymn 2591 With music for four voices, tonic sol-fa edition.



Hymn 2129


Hotten, John Camden. A garland of Christmas carols ancient and modern. Including some never before given in any collection. London : J.C. Hotten, 1861. Hymn 2129.  A bookplate marks this item as having come from the original James Thin Collection.





Hymn 2590


A booke of Christmas carols : illuminated from ancient manuscripts in the British Museum. London : Joseph Cundall [1846] Hymn 2590

Cataloguing Christ’s Second Coming

The life of Edward Irving, minister of the National Scotch Church, London .../ Oliphant, Margaret, 1865. New College Library SPecial Collections SHAW 3

The life of Edward Irving, minister of the National Scotch Church, London …/ Oliphant, Margaret, 1865. New College Library Special Collections SHAW 3

We’re delighted that the cataloguing of nearly 500 items held in the Shaw Collection on the Catholic Apostolic Church at New College Library, is now complete.

While further research is required to verify the history of this collection, it may have been put together by P.E. Shaw, author of The Catholic Apostolic Church, sometimes called Irvingite (A Historical Study); New York, 1946.

The Catholic Apostolic Church movement was inspired by Edward Irving, who began his career as a Church of Scotland minister who worked with Thomas Chalmers on his urban ministry projects. Irving moved to London where he became a strikingly popular preacher, predicting that the world was irredeemably evil and that the return of Christ and the end of the world was at hand. His charismatic services included controversial spiritual phenomena such as speaking in tongues.

The collection covers the liturgy, doctrines and government of the Catholic Apostolic Church movement, along with sermons and addresses by prominent figures in the church. This includes items written by eight of the ‘twelve apostles’ who were appointed after Irving’s death in 1835 – Henry Drummond John Bate Cardale, Nicholas Armstrong, Francis Valentine Woodhouse, Henry Dalton, Thomas Carlyle, Francis Sitwell and William Dow.

The Catholic Apostolic Church believed in the imminent second coming of Christ, and the necessity of the restoration of a ‘perfect’ church in preparation for this event.  Missionary activity took the movement to mainland Europe, Canada, and the USA, and the Church claimed 6,000 members in 30 congregations in 1851. In the twentieth century the movement dwindled and eventually fell silent.

The testimony of the Apostles to the ecclesiastical and temporal heads of Christianity : composed in the year 1836. Chicago, Ill. : New Apostolic Church of North America, 1932. New College Library Special Collections Shaw 27.
The testimony of the Apostles to the ecclesiastical and temporal heads of Christianity : composed in the year 1836. Chicago, Ill. : New Apostolic Church of North America, 1932. New College Library Special Collections SHAW 27.

The cataloguing of this collection was made possible by the generous donation of Rev. Dr. Robert Funk.


Oxford Companion to British History

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide : The Catholic Apostolic Church Collection

Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, Divinity, with thanks to Janice Gailani, Funk Projects Cataloguer.

Manuscripts on display for Elizabeth Melville Day

From Monday 16th June to Friday 27th June manuscript work by Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross is on display in New College Library. Two rare examples of early modern women’s writing are displayed together for the first time as part of the events around Elizabeth Melville Day on Saturday 21st June.

Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, was the first Scotswoman to see her work in print with the publication of her mini-epic ‘Ane Godlie Dreame’ in 1603.

She was the daughter of Sir James Melville of Halhill (1535/6–1617), the diplomat and autobiographer.  Elizabeth was at the centre of a network supporting the exiled and imprisoned Presbyterian ministers, and her strong Calvinist faith is expressed in her writings.

Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections La.III.347

Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections La.III.347

On display is a volume of original letters,  received by the University of Edinburgh in 1878 as part of the David Laing collection.  It contains two holograph letters by Elizabeth to her son James (dated 1625 and 1629), nine to Reverend John Livingstone (eight holographs and one 19th century transcription, dated 1629-32), and one holograph to the Countess of Wigtoun (1630), and is a unique source of information about the poet.

Mss Bru 2, New College Library Special Collections

Mss Bru 2, New College Library Special Collections

This volume is displayed together with the Bruce Manuscripts, from New College Library Special Collections. The Bruce Manuscripts contains twenty nine sermons on Hebrews XI, preached in 1590-91 by Robert Bruce,  Edinburgh minister. In 2002 Dr Jamie Reid-Baxter uncovered nearly 3500 lines of verse attributed to Elizabeth Melville contained in this manuscript.

Dr Joseph Marshall, Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarian & Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian – Divinity

Chinese calligraphy on display at New College Library


Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. New College Library, Inglis 23.

On display in the New College Library entrance this week is the  beautiful Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Inglis 23). This is a classic treatise of calligraphic art on silk, by calligraphers Wen-Yuan T’ang and Chin-Ch’ang in 1682.

This volume is one of the five volume set, bound in silk, which was given to New College Library in 1921 by the Rev. James W. Inglis, Missionary to Manchuria for the United Free Church of Scotland.

New College Library’s Torah Scroll

Torah scroll on display in the Funk Reading Room

Torah scroll on display in the Funk Reading Room

Phylactery, New College Objects Collection

Phylactery, New College Objects Collection

New College Library’s Torah Scroll (Pentateuch) was on display to visitors today in the Funk Reading Room.

Scrolls such as these are an integral part of Jewish communal life, being read in their entirety in a yearly cycle. The portions of the masoretic texts are divided into weekly portions and their reading in communal worship is followed by a set reading from the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible.

This scroll is no longer suitable for ritual use, as it is no longer bound onto its original etzim (rollers) or clothed in its original protective and decorative garments. Some letters are damaged, indicating its non-kosher status. Conservation work was undertaken in 2008 to ensure that the scroll was preserved in an appropriate state for study and teaching, and it received new rollers and new box. The funds for this work were raised by the New College Library Book Sale.

The provenance of the scroll is not known, but it may have come to the Library at the same time as other objects from Jewish religious practice in the New College Library objects collection. These include a phylatctory or tefillin,  a small, black leather cube-shaped case made to contain Torah texts.