Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, East Midlands, United Kingdom
It is an icon of the Cambridge skyline that has inspired authors from CS Lewis to Stephen Fry – and been an enduring source of undergraduate legend for its mythical collection of Victorian pornography.
Now, the treasures of Cambridge University Library’s fabled 17-storey Tower Collection (chosen from nearly a million volumes) will go on public display together for the first time in a free exhibition, Tall Tales: Secrets of the Tower, to be opened by Sebastian Faulks on May 1 (opening to the public from May 2).
The Tower Collection is an Aladdin’s cave for book lovers and historians alike where valuable first editions jostle for shelf space alongside Victorian toys and games, colourful children’s books, Edwardian fiction (beautifully preserved with their original dust jackets) and popular magazines of the day. The oldest items in the tower date from 1710, with the most recent material dating from the early years of the 21st century.
However, until now, access to the 157ft tower and its collections has usually been limited to a handful of library staff, researchers and academics, with the majority of its hundreds of thousands books remaining unopened.
While first editions of books such as The Hobbit, Casino Royale and The Famous Five series are considered literary classics today, such novels were deemed of little academic value at the time of publication and effectively banished to the Tower. There, they sit alongside the myriad toys, board games, Valentine’s cards, pop-up books and Mr Men cartoons, which have all found their way into the Tower since its completion in 1934.
University Librarian Jess Gardner said: “Now regarded as an archive of global importance, the Tower’s irreplaceable contents tell the story of our national life through the printed word.
“For the first time, we are giving people the chance to explore both the remarkable collections and to glimpse inside this most visible yet mysterious of the city’s landmarks.”
Press Day: May 1.