Amazing Places

You Can Encounter Some of the World's Oldest Books at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

What bibliophile hasn't dreamed of communing with a first edition of their favorite historic text? To hold Shakespeare's First Folio, for example, and read Hamlet, Macbeth, and The Tempest as they would have been read by Londoners in 1623...could there be a more sublime, impossible dream? Well, as long as you can get to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto, that dream is in reach—along with 700,000 other rare, historic texts that are available to the public on request.

Seminar room and mezzanine

Ancient Texts Made Accessible

Situated on the University of Toronto campus, the Thomas Fisher Library is certainly striking from the exterior. It's got that severe, highly angular architectural style that was so popular in the 1970s and makes it look like a supervillain's lair, or an alien spacecraft that's about to take off. But inside, the weight of several centuries' worth of literature overshadows any modernist design.

Did we say centuries? Make that millennia: the oldest manuscript in the library's holdings is a Babylonian cuneiform tablet dating back to 1789 B.C.E. It probably goes without saying that visitors don't exactly get free rein over these priceless pieces, but don't let that discourage you. Accessibility is central to the library's mission, and that includes finding a way to get the books that you seek into your hands without putting the materials at risk.

A Beauty of a Library, Full of Beasts

The contents of this collection are almost beyond comprehension, and include not only one of the only surviving copies of Shakespeare's First Folio but also an edition of the first English translation of Machiavelli's political works and a breathtaking collection of the works of Lewis Carroll. But there's perhaps nothing in the library that's more amazing than its various "monstrous" texts. While 16th century scientists were still wrapping their brains around what this world had to offer, they set to work cataloguing zoologies of truly impossible creatures with some real exotic beasts thrown in for good measure. At Thomas Fisher, you can find books such as Aldrovandi's 1642 Monstrorum historia, where animal lovers will find full-page illustrations of such beasties as satyrs, elephant-headed men, and surprisingly accurate baboons.

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Written by Curiosity Staff April 13, 2017

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