A collection of rare books worth nearly $200,000 has been donated to our National Library.

The 20 books were printed more than 500 years ago, between 1472 and 1512.

They're now in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, thanks to a generous donation from John Barton.

The book collector from New Plymouth died in 2016, and his estate bequeathed the books to New Zealand's national collection.


The books include Latin classical texts, theology, astrology, and works on the lives of saints.

One of the books is so rare, it's one of only eight known in the world. It's a history of the world to the end of the 14th Century, written by Archbishop Antoninus of Florence, and printed in Lyon, France.

Close-up of the decorative text from a book printed in Germany in 1483. Photo / Mark Beatty.
Close-up of the decorative text from a book printed in Germany in 1483. Photo / Mark Beatty.

Rare Books and Fine Printing curator Anthony Tedeschi said it was a very generous donation.

"We were delighted to receive this generous offer, and the library is privileged to accept these volumes into the national collection.

"These books are rare, particularly in Australasia. Four of the books were printed with 25 years of the Gutenberg Bible - the very first book printed in Europe using moveable type.

"Most of the books are the only copies of these specific editions in New Zealand.

"They will be of particular interest to scholars and researchers of late medieval and early modern history.

"Some include handwritten notes by their early owners, offering us a window into the thinking of centuries-old readers."


The John Barton collection will be available by request from mid-July.

The Alexander Turnbull Library, as part of the National Library, has been collecting and preserving rare books in New Zealand for almost 100 years.