The Hobbit in Hawaiian among treasure trove of books held in tower going on show

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An Aladdin’s cave of books once deemed of no interest to Cambridge University academics, including translations of The Hobbit into Cornish and Hawaiian, are to go on public display for the first time.

The university’s library has been entitled to a copy of all new published books since the Copyright Act of 1710, but those classed as non-academic were hived off into a tower.

The volumes, including children’s literature, cookbooks, car manuals and novels, were not originally entered into the university’s main library catalogue.

The tower at Cambridge University Library. (Cambridge University/ PA)
The tower at Cambridge University Library (Cambridge University/PA)

Its treasures will go on display to the public when a free exhibition called Tall Tales: Secrets Of The Tower opens on Wednesday.

Items in the Tower Collection are kept as part of the university’s responsibility as a copyright library.

Liam Sims, rare book specialist at Cambridge University Library, said: “I suspect many academics didn’t have any interest in this sort of material.”

He added that the items were “not deemed to be of academic use in a university library” but were “kept and preserved as part of the national printed record”.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of items could only be found by using cards until an online cataloguing project, funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, was completed in 2012.

A Cornish translation of The Hobbit in Cambridge University Library's Tower Collection. (Cambridge University/ PA)
A Cornish translation of The Hobbit in Cambridge University Library’s Tower Collection (Cambridge University/PA)

“Our cataloguing project showed that the collection is now treasured, and that its contents provide much of interest for both the general enthusiast and academics, both in Cambridge and across the world.

“It is a treasure trove for researchers, and the collection tells the story of our national life through the printed word.”

He added that the tower had been the subject of much speculation over the years and had inspired authors from CS Lewis to Stephen Fry, even featuring in the latter’s first novel The Liar.

A Hawaiian translation of The Hobbit at Cambridge University Library's Tower Collection. (Cambridge University/ PA)
A Hawaiian translation of The Hobbit at Cambridge University Library’s Tower Collection (Cambridge University/PA)

Items that are in the tower include first editions of Casino Royale and The Famous Five, Mr Men cartoons and Victorian cookbooks.

Other highlights of the exhibition include the first novel to focus on poor, working-class black culture in Britain (Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners) and an array of delightfully titled books such as Indoor Games For Awkward Moments and Cupid’s Code (For The Transmission Of Secret Messages By Means Of The Language Of Postage Stamps).

The exhibition, which comes as Cambridge University Library prepares to open a new storage facility with more than 100km of shelf space in nearby Ely, opens to the public on Wednesday and will run until October 27.

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