STACKED ON library shelves in a far-flung corner of the University of Leeds, thousands of priceless treasures sat for years, contained inside thick, dusty book covers.
But now, thanks to a new £1.9m gallery, a collection of 200,000 rare books and hundreds of thousands of manuscripts have a home worthy of their status.
Among the special items in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery are a copy of William Shakespeare’s 1623 first folio, a 4,500-year-old Babylonian clay tablet and a map and compass used by Bertie Ratcliffe, the first prisoner to escape to Britain from Germany during the First World War.
Much comes from the University’s Brotherton Collection, which built on a library of rare books and manuscripts bequeathed by Lord Brotherton, the Leeds industrialist who funded the building of Brotherton Library 80 years ago.
Alongside permanent exhibitions, a temporary exhibition space will help bring to life important anniversaries and events. The first will examine the role of conscientious objectors in the first world war, while later this year an exhibition will mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare.
Dr Stella Butler, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, said: “This new gallery is allowing us to put a collection that has been hidden away in a far corner of the University open to the public, allowing us to shout about their treasures.
“We have some truly wonderful items.”
Also on display is the “visually stunning” Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded to Russian writer Ivan Bunin in 1933, and part of the Leeds Russian Archive.