In April 2008 I received an email from my friend and colleague Dr Gabriele Kaiser from the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. She said:
Tomorrow is the last day of our … exhibition “Sternstunden eines Mäzens” (Great moments of a patron).
I am now in the Manuscript Department of the Library (she was working in the Fundraising and Executive area when I first met her when I visited Berlin in 2001 working on the Treasures from the World’s Great Libraries exhibition). We have a lot of fine manuscripts, and among others a great collection of 250,000 fine autographs, collected by the chemist and entrepreneur Ludwig Darmstaedter. The collection was a gift to the Library in 1908.
We showed autographs from Michelangelo Buonarotti, Galileo Galilei, James Cook, James Watt, Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt…. to Albert Einstein. Only the best of… 60 treasures, or pearls of 250.000.
A lot of these autographs are written in English, because he collected only the best, the great names in history, technology, medicine, engineering, science.
Do you like to have a cooperation with my Manuscript Department, to show these autographs in Canberra? I remember your wonderful exhibition room with the best conditions. And it is not so difficult to bring autographs round the world.
So, from this initial contact now three and a half years later we are now very happily showing Handwritten: Ten centuries of manuscript treasures from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
Dr. Eef Overgaauw, Dr. Martina Rebmann and numerous staff from the Staatsbibliothek Manuscripts and Music Departments and myself and Susannah Helman, (Exhibitions Curator) substantially extended the scope of the original Darmstaedter exhibition to fit our new Gallery space. We added beautiful manuscripts from the Medieval and Renaissance periods and some of the world’s great music highlights from their extraordinary collection.
This team has contributed essays to the beautiful exhibition catalogue now on sale in our bookshop and have supported us every step along the way. This has been a truly collaborative project between two great Libraries and the Australian public over this Summer will be the direct beneficiaries of the Staatsbbiliothek‘s most generous loan of some of their manuscript treasures.
I hope you can visit and celebrate over 1,000 years of human thought and endeavour.
Director of Exhibitions