Dunedin City Library holds one of the largest collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in New Zealand, second only to the Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries.


The majority of these manuscripts were purchased by Sir Alfred Hamish Reed (1875–1975), who acquired his first medieval manuscript (a fifteenth-century collection of theological treatises; Reed MS 7) in 1919. Reed gave over his collection to the Dunedin Public Library in 1948, and continued to buy manuscripts and advised successive Dunedin City Librarians in developing the collection throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After his death, the Library honoured Reed’s desires as outlined in his Deed of Gift (updated October 1950) by continuing to develop through his bequest what is known as the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection.


Reed was a devout Christian, and his manuscripts collection is focused on the Bible and liturgical works. Highlights include: a leaf and bifolium from a ninth-century Bible in Carolingian script (RMMF 1a and 1b); a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the Wycliffe Gospels (MS 6) and a leaf from a Wycliffite Lectionary (RMMF 20) dated to the same time period; a portion of a fourteenth-century Bible (MS 4a), identified by Christopher de Hamel as having been written in the Cistercian Abbey of Byszewo (or Koronowo), near Gdansk, the first manuscript of Polish origin to be identified in New Zealand; a fifteenth-century Dutch Book of Hours (MS 11) from the library of Alexander Boswell, 8th Laird of Auchinleck, purchased in 2009 with funds from Reed’s bequest, and a second Dutch Book of Hours (MS 10) brought to New Zealand by Walter B. D. Mantell in 1840, one of the earliest medieval manuscripts to be transported to the colony, which remained in private hands under purchased by the Library in 1987.


The descriptions for the majority of the Reed manuscripts were transcribed with permission from Christopher de Hamel’s work in Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections (London, 1989), co-authored by Margaret Manion and Vera F. Vines. These details have in some cases been updated to reflect recent scholarship.



Thanks to Alexandra Barratt (University of Waikato); Christopher de Hamel (Parker Library, Cambridge); James Harding (University of Otago); Margaret Manion (University of Melbourne); William Noel (University of Pennsylvania); and the Vines family.



Rare Books Librarian

Heritage Collections, Dunedin City Library




Stephanie Hollis and Alexandra Barratt (eds.). Migrations: Medieval Manuscripts in New Zealand. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.


Gregory Kratzmann (ed.). Imagination, Books & Community in Medieval Europe. South Yarra, Victoria: Macmillan Art Publishing, 2009.


Margaret Manion, Vera F. Vines and Christopher de Hamel. Medieval &Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.


Bronwyn Stocks and Nigel Morgan (eds.). The Medieval Imagination: Illuminated Manuscripts from Cambridge, Australia and New Zealand. South Yarra, Victoria: Macmillan Art Publishing, 2008.


Anthony Tedeschi. Early Bibles, Liturgies & Prayerbooks From the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection: A Catalogue. Dunedin: Dunedin Public Libraries, 2011.

Read more


Have something nice to say about Heritage Collections, Dunedin Public Libraries? Write a testimonial