Hidden Gems – the smallest, largest and oldest books in the ANU library collection

27 March 2017

Did you know the smallest book in the University's Library collection is no bigger than a 20 cent piece, the largest book is the size of a small coffee table and the oldest book dates back to 1411?

The ANU Library not only has books that students and staff use on a regular basis for their studies and research, it is also a repository for some of the world's rarest books. The Library stores these books as part of its broader objective to enhance, strengthen and deepen the collections held at ANU.

The English bijou almanac for 1839, which is part of the University's Mortlake Collection, is just 20 millimetres high by 14 millimetres wide. It is so small that it took us an hour to take a photo that would allow us to show a comparison in size difference between it and the collection's largest book The Banksias.

At 76 centimetres tall, The Banksias, by Celia E. Rosser and Alexander S. George is volume one of a three-volume series dedicated to native Australian flora. ANU acquired it in 1988 to enhance the Library's native Australian fauna collection.

Covering all aspects of death in Buddhism, the Fo ding zun sheng tuo luo ni jing Fotuoboli yi is the oldest book in the Library as part of the Xu Dishan Collection, which was purchased in 1950 by Chinese historian and Professor of Far Eastern History at ANU, C.P. FitzGerald. There are only a few copies of this book located in libraries around the world - others are at Harvard, University of Hong Kong, and Taiwan's FO Guang University and National Central Library.

ANU is the only library in Australia to hold the Mortlake collection's English bijou almanac for 1839.

Nominate a Hidden Gem

Students, staff: do you know a Hidden Gem on campus that you'd like to share with the ANU community? If you do, we'd love to hear about it. You don't have to know much about the object's history as we can do all of the background research. If you have a Hidden Gem idea, drop us a line at on.campus@anu.edu.au.