Treasures of the National Library of Scotland exhibition

New Treasures exhibition opens a window on the fascinating world captured in the National Library of Scotland’s permanent collection

Treasures include Timothy Pont’s ground-breaking maps, belongings of pioneer Isobel Wylie Hutchison, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a letter from Ludwig van Beethoven, Scotland’s first printers Chepman & Myllar, a complete Gutenberg Bible, international first editions of Harry Potter, King of Speyside James Scott Skinner captured on wax cylinder and Robert Burns’s Ae Fond Kiss.

Treasures of the National Library of Scotland is a new permanent thematic display, featuring objects from the extensive collection at the Library. From early printed books to video installations, maps and medieval manuscripts to passports and letters, this changing display provides a unique insight into Scotland’s history, culture and people, and its place in the world. 

The Treasures exhibition opens to the public on Friday 25 March 2022, and features work from the breadth of the National Library’s collections. Some displays will be refreshed every six months to explore the many rich facets of the Library’s archives.

Entry to Treasures exhibition is free of charge, and suitable for all ages, with text in English, Gaelic and Scots.

As well as the physical exhibition, Treasures will have a dedicated space on the Library website, featuring items that have been part of the exhibitions, blogs and video content.

The newly updated, individual showcases within the Treasures exhibition space are interspersed with interactive displays, localised audio tracks, archival film footage and specially commissioned new writing and film in partnership with Neu! Reekie!

The displays include:

  1. Ideas and Beliefs

The written word has played a vital role in the spread of ideas.

  • The Iona Psalter, dating from between 1180 and 1220, is a highly decorated devotional text. It contains sacred songs known as psalms.
  1. Scotland’s Bard

Robert Burns (1759-1796) is Scotland’s most famous poet. His work is celebrated around the world.  

  • Ae Fond Kiss – a letter containing one of Robert Burns’s most well-known love songs, on long-term loan from the National Galleries of Scotland (Watson Collection)
  1. Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic language and culture are an integral part of the identity of Scotland.

The Library holds one of the world’s largest collections of Scottish Gaelic printed books and manuscripts.

  • Gaelic medical manuscripts about pharmacy and remedies, dating from the 15th century, belonging to James Beaton of Dervaig on the Isle of Mull.
  1. Shaping the Nation

The Library collects material relating to the history of Scotland, from everyday life to defining moments of national significance. 

  • Including The Lyon in Mourning - an account of the rising compiled by Reverend Robert Forbes (1708-1775)
  1. Mapping our World

Maps frame our view of the world and our place within it, The Library has the

largest collection of maps in Scotland. All parts of the globe and all eras of

mapmaking are represented, from early atlases to digital mapping.

  • Timothy Pont’s maps became the primary source material for Scotland’s first atlas, produced by Joan Blaeu (1596-1673) at Amsterdam in 1654.
  1. Travel

The Library’s collections are enriched with travellers’ tales. 

  • Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) was a Scottish solo explorer, botanist, artist and writer
  1. Innovation

The written word has played an important role in the efforts of humankind to

control and understand the world.

  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
  1. Leisure and the Arts

Leisure pursuits and the arts can create a deep sense of joy, shared endeavour and community

  • Letter from Ludwig van Beethoven to George Thomson on long-term loan from the National Galleries of Scotland (Watson Collection). Beethoven and Thomson corresponded with each other from 1803 – resulting in the unique sound of a Scottish song with a classical Viennese accompaniment.
  1. Literature

The birthplace and home of great writers, Scotland has a rich literary culture which has developed over centuries.

  • Examples of numerous translations of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – one of the most translated modern novels.
  1. Book Arts

Books have long been cherished as works of art; for their text, illustration and binding.

  • Stunning examples of Scottish bookbinding styles, Herringbone binding (dates from the late 1670s) and Wheel binding which was in use by the mid-1720s.
  1. People Power

Scotland has a long history of political movement and collective action.

  • Material which represents the 1997 Scottish devolution referendum, the first Scottish Parliament election, and the journey to the opening of the Parliament in 1999.
  1. Early Printed Books

The innovation of the printing press transformed text production, enabling the rapid distribution of knowledge and ideas

  • The Gutenberg Bible, Chepman & Myllar (till July), The Aberdeen Breviary (from July)
  1. Digital Collecting

The production of text has changed over time from handwritten manuscripts, to printed books, to digital publications.

  • A “Pepper’s Ghost” celebration of Scotland’s Makar Jackie Kay, Makar of 2016.

There are further AV Displays within the space including:

  1. Sound Collections
  • James Scott Skinner and wax cylinder recordings c.1920’s
  1. Moving Image Archive
  • Where the Bens Stand Sentinel by Ronald L. Jay, 1928-32 (AKA Ronnie)
  1. Neu! Treasures!
  • Neu! Treasures! Newly commissioned works in partnership with Neu! Reekie! in response to material on display at launch.

The National Library and Neu! Reekie! have commissioned artists to respond to collection items which will be displayed in the Treasures exhibition.  Artists involved include Kapka Kassabova, Harry Josephine Giles, Hannah Lavery, David Kinloch, George Gunn, Kevin Williamson, Meg Bateman, Miriam Gamble, Emma Pollock, Nadine Aisha Jassat and Mark Cousins.

Each artist has created a new work of poetry, prose, song or film in response to their collection item. This will be displayed on the AV interactive gallery within the Treasures exhibition, as well as on The National Library’s website and social media. As a central part of the digital offer for Treasures, a filmmaker is creating films capturing the artists’ works, their connection to the Treasures item, and are filmed in a spaces or places connected to the artists’ practice. [full list in notes to editors].

The launch of Neu! Treasures! is scheduled to take place live and in-person in The National Library on 1 April. Library Late x Neu! Reekie! Tickets, Fri 1 Apr 2022 at 19:00 | Eventbrite

Amina Shah, Chief Executive and National Librarian, said: “As guardian of the nation’s published and recorded memory, we have an unparalleled collection of materials. The Treasures exhibition gives people a glimpse into the vast collections – many of which are typically stored among the multiple floor levels beneath their very feet. We’re excited to launch this much-anticipated exhibition, which will provide visitors with unique insights into Scotland’s story, and its place in the world.”  

The Library is grateful to the donors who made this exhibition possible namely Garfield Weston Foundation, Hugh Fraser Foundation, National Library of Scotland Foundation, Sir Boyd Tunnock, Jeffrey Jay and Mike Lampert.

Contact Information

Barbara Burke

National Library of Scotland

+44131 623 3738

+447904 791002

b.burke@nls.uk