Antiquarian books

Doctrine of contentment by Henry Wilkinson

Refurbishing antiquarian books

Hertford possesses a remarkable antiquarian library, a legacy from Magdalen Hall. First assembled by Principal Henry Wilkinson (1648-62), who produced its first catalogue in 1661, the books reflect the diverse, innovative and advanced intellectual tastes of seventeenth and eighteenth century members of Magdalen Hall who included members of the circle who founded the Royal Society. It is a collection of wide historical importance.

Every week, nine dedicated volunteers from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies visit Hertford to painstakingly clean and restore a selection of the 4,000 volumes in the antiquarian collection. However some volumes require even more specialist attention to preserve them.

Thanks to an annual donation of £2,000, we are able to send two items per year from our antiquarian collections for conservation and repair at a local specialist book bindery. The two items restored in 2014 took over 50 hours to be transformed. There many more volumes which would benefit from restoration, so they can be safely handled and read by junior members and Fellows, and used in exhibitions.

  • £200-£1,000 would fund the restoration of a historic volume
  • £40 would buy a case to protect historic books and allow us to display them without damage


Digitising historic volumes

Ortelius Atlas

In 2015, Hertford restored the historic Ortelius Altas to its former home at the Humboldt Institute in Berlin. The historic volume is recognised as an early edition of the first modern atlas, created by Abraham Ortelius in the sixteenth century.

Before the official handover, we have enlisted the assistance of the Bodleian to scan and digitise the contents of the Atlas so it can be referred to and enjoyed by future generations of scholars.

Writing the college history

2024 will mark Hertford’s 150th anniversary, since it was refounded by an Act of Parliament in 1874. To mark the anniversary, a new history of the college and its predecessors – Magdalen Hall, the eighteenth century Hertford College and Hart Hall – has been commissioned to be written by Professor Christopher Tyerman, Fellow and Tutor in History.




Further reading



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