Collectors: John Rylands

John Rylands (1801-1888) was a Lancashire textile entrepreneur who ran the largest firm of its kind in Britain. Having settled in Manchester, he was the city’s first multi-millionaire employing 15,000 workers in his seventeen mills and factories.

The superb John Rylands Library on Deansgate in Manchester holds one of the finest collections of books from the Aldine Press. The Venetian house was founded in 1495 by Aldus Manutius and continued by his successors up to 1515. The Library holds 120 of its 127 authenticated editions. The John Rylands Library was founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband. It was opened to the public in 1900 and is now part of the Special Collections section of the John Rylands University Library (JRUL). The foundation collections are Lord Spencer’s Althorp Library, acquired in 1892, and the Bibliotheca Lindesiana which, in 1901, was purchased from James Lindsay, Earl of Crawford. This was an impressive private collection, both for its size and the rarity of some of the materials it contained, including Chinese and Japanese printed books.

The holdings of incunabula number about 4,500, of which some 3,000 came from Lord Spencer’s collection. The collection includes many fine illuminated manuscripts, as well as examples of early European printing, including a fine copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and a collection of books printed by William Caxton. The library also houses the unique Rylands Papyri collection, notably the St John Fragment, believed to be the oldest extant New Testament document. The personal papers of distinguished historical figures such as novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, scientist John Dalton, and theologian John Wesley are also housed at Deansgate.

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