In her will, former Newcastle identity Reta Light made a bequest of more than $1,000,000 to the University Library. A trust fund was to be established, and the income from it to be used "for the purpose of purchasing books, musical scores, periodicals and microfilms" for the Library. Since Light funding became available some five years ago, the Library has been able to purchase a number of important and valuable items which have both strengthened and enhanced our research collections.
One of the most significant purchases made with Light funding was a large collection of Australian poetry, mostly printed in the 19th century, and named the Reta Light Australian Poetry Collection in honour of our first major benefactor.
This Collection at present numbers 130 items and formed part of a large private library offered for sale in 1993. It includes volumes previously owned by prominent bibliophiles George Mackaness, Walter Stone, Harry F. Chaplin, Bill Russell and Edward Wythes and bookplates provide testimony to them as previous owners.
As noted earlier, most of the Collection are first editions printed in the 19th century, however, there are also some 20th century works as well. The Collection includes works by prominent writers such as Henry Lawson, A.B. Paterson, Henry Kendall, Richard H. Horne, Tilly Aston, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Will Ogilvie as well as lesser known and more minor writers.
Many items are very rare. Included in the Collection, for instance, is a first edition of the Man from Snowy River printed in 1895. It was one of 25 copies numbered and initialled by George Robertson, and, as well, includes the original signed, and corrected manuscript of Rolf Boldrewood’s Preface. In the Collection too, is a presentation copy of Henry Kendall’s Leaves from Australian Forests printed in Melbourne, 1869. Loosely inserted is a manuscript poem "To Australis", a sonnet presented to a Dr. Patrick Moloney.
Many of the items were originally presentation copies inscribed by the authors. Included in many volumes too are photos, letters and loose newscuttings. A large number of Will H. Ogilvie’s works were presented to Harry F. Chaplin, a chemist at Vaucluse, and book collector of the period from the 1940s to the 1960s. There are letters too from Will Lawson and others to prominent literary figures.
The Collection also has great bibliographic significance. There are some rare imprints including works printed in regional centres such as Geelong, Ballarat and Maitland. One of the works was printed at the Maitland Mercury Office in 1854 by Richard Jones just before he sold the business. Many were also privately printed and produced in paper wrappers, and because of their fragile make-up have become increasingly rare. The Collection as a whole reflects the history of bookmaking in Australia from the mid 19th century.
It is hoped that as Light funding becomes available appropriate additions may be made to further enhance this Collection. Already the Collection has been enlarged by two donations from Professor Lionel E. Fredman on behalf of the Newcastle Hebrew Congregation. All items contained in the Collection are housed in Rare Books.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Judy Keogh who painstakingly typed this work.
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