'For Scholars not yet Born'

The Past and Future of the Wosk–McDonald Aldine Collection at SFU
Melanie Hardbattle

Nearly twenty years have passed since the acquisition of the Wosk-McDonald Aldine Collection by Simon Fraser University Library’s Special Collections and Rare Books in late 1995. The books were acquired from collector Hugh McDonald and his wife Jerry under the initiative of then Head of Special Collections Ralph Stanton, with support from Morris and Dr. Yosef Wosk. Since then, the rare and beautiful books that compose this collection have been used by students, scholars, and researchers from around the world. The collection consists of 106 books published between 1501 and 1580 under the editorial direction and imprint of Aldus Pius Manutius and his successors, and carefully and adeptly assembled by McDonald over a period of more than fifty years. Some of the many highlights of the collection include at least five contemporary bindings, several first editions, including Demosthenes (1504) and Plutarch (1509), and books previously owned by Aldus’s bliographer A.A. Renouard in the nineteenth century.

At the time of their acquisition, Stanton declared that “[The Library’s] approach is not to hide them, but to use them in practical ways.” [1] Since their acquisition, the books have proven their value to studies in multiple fields, such as History, Medieval Studies, Classical Studies, Art, English, History of the Book, Publishing, and Print Culture. Over this same period of time, technology has continued to develop, affording increasingly sophisticated means of sharing this collection with researchers and other interested individuals beyond the walls of the University.

Special Collections is very pleased to have received this opportunity to have these first selected twenty-one volumes from the collection, representing Aldus’s work between 1501 and 1515, digitized and made available online in honour of the five-hundredth anniversary of his death. Since its acquisition, the collection has resided in the Special Collections vault. Individuals wishing to use it have had to travel to the Library, register, fill out a request form, and sit at a table in the Reading Room. Now, for these selected volumes, the process will simply be a matter of typing in the web address on one’s computer or mobile device, providing virtually instant access from anywhere.

In his essay “On Collecting Aldines” published in Festina Lente: A Celebration of the Wosk–McDonald Aldine Collection at Simon Fraser University (1996), McDonald cites one of his reasons for selecting Simon Fraser University as a repository for the collection as being his view of SFU as “world-class in its efforts to create a twenty-first-century library for scholars not yet born.” [2] Not only will these books be freely available to anyone anywhere in the world, very much in line with Aldus’s objectives of promoting portability and increasing accessibility of knowledge, they will provide a wealth of possibilities in terms of projects in the emerging field of Digital Humanities, where they can be studied and discoursed using new methods of analysis. We look forward as well to the opportunities that this will bring to the Library and the University in terms of collaborating with other institutions to build a comprehensive online library of Aldus’s work.

In continuance of Hugh McDonald and the Wosk family’s vision, we welcome researchers, scholars, students, and other interested individuals to visit and examine these treasures in this digital extension of our reading room.

1. “Simon Fraser library acquires $500,000 Renaissance book collection,” Simon Fraser University News, March 7, 1996.
2. Hugh McDonald, “On Collecting Aldines,” in Festina Lente: A Celebration of the Wosk–McDonald Aldine Collection at Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, B.C.: SFU Friends of the Archives & the Alcuin Society, 1996), 9.