St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Opera.
Printed in Basel by Johannes Froben, 1541-43
This eight-volume edition of the works of St Augustine can lay claim to being the very first book acquired by the Library. The earliest books were bought in large consignments of up to 350 volumes and the first book in the first consignment of August 1655 is listed as Augustini Opera vol. 8. Basileae. The volume, which cost £7, was bought from the London bookseller Robert Littlebury, who was the Library’s main supplier of books in the seventeenth century. The book is typical of the Library's early acquisitions: in setting up a library from scratch, the feoffees or governors of the Library had to acquire the older printed material that was essential to scholarly research, along with a handful of new publications. Theological works predominated: by 1684, when the first shelf list was made, theology amounted to 1,600 volumes, as much as sixty-eight percent of the stock.
The works of Augustine are bound in an original dark brown calf binding with wooden bevel-edged boards and have been rebacked with new spines. In a chained library the books are shelved with the fore-edge rather than the spine facing outwards, to prevent the chains from rubbing against the bindings. In this case the title of the book De Civitate Dei ('City of God') has been written on the edge of the pages to identify the work more easily.