Melbourne Rare Book Week

It's Melbourne's Rare Book Week. Picture: ON FILE

By Christine Yunn-Yu Sun

This year’s Melbourne Rare Book Week will take place from July 21-29. The program features a wide range of free talks and events across the city, but bookings are essential. You don’t have to be a collector or investor to appreciate the value of rare books. Indeed, a rare book doesn’t have to be ancient, depending on how many copies were printed, how many are still in circulation, and how easily they can be found.

Even if you’re not a booklover, it helps to imagine how a piece of culture – a slice of human heritage – is lovingly preserved for future generations to enjoy. A moment in time – a random yet precious footnote of civilisation – has been captured and presented, waiting for you.

For example, you can delve into the mystery surrounding The Fencer’s Manual, the first commercially published book in Melbourne in 1850. Or you can discover how astronomical books were used during the voyage of the Endeavour to chart the Transit of Venus.

You may want to behold the documents chronicling the first recorded landing and exploratory expedition on Antarctica, while contemplating Melbourne’s important role in facilitating voyages to the frozen continent throughout the past 130 years..

Alternatively, you can visit an exhibition of historic and contemporary images of Melbourne that features how people connect and work together in urban and suburban environments. You can listen to a group of Melbourne Cricket Club Librarians discuss an illustrated scorecard from an international cricket match at the MCG in 1862.

Another exhibition explores Victoria’s past through the letters, ephemera, invitations, dance cards, petitions, plans and registers collected by the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute since 1854. As the organisation explains: “All stories are shaped by the documents that survive to tell them.”

On a “lighter” note, you can join the curators of the “Word of the Book” exhibition for a special tour of the “rare, sacred, iconic and historically significant books” within State Library Victoria’s collections.

While you’re there, why not attend an exclusive viewing of the most significant gift of rare books the Library has ever received – a collection of “over 5,000 titles exploring the turbulent years

of the English Civil War and the execution of King Charles I”.

Meanwhile, a discussion of the life and books of Georgette Heyer – a bestselling English author of Regency romance and detective fiction – will inform you how a lack of personal publicity can actually increase the value of your work. A presentation by urban sketcher Alissa Duke will demonstrate how to draw in unwanted books to give them a new life.

Finally, the 51st Australian Antiquarian Book Fair will cater for all who genuinely love print on paper. In the words of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers: “Millions of dollars worth of rare and collectable books, maps, photographs and manuscript material will be on offer… at prices to suit all levels of collecting.” Surely, even a free guided tour of the event will be fun!