The Library’s New Zealand Glass Case is a collection of rare, fragile and pre-1900 books relating to New Zealand and the Pacific. Not only are these books fascinating treasures in their own right but the names inscribed on the fly leaves and the annotations in the margins of many volumes reveal that these books were read and well loved long before they came to the Library.
This 1882 copy of Edward Shortland’s Maori Religion and Mythology for example is inscribed with the names of two previous owners of note, Johannes Andersen and Elsdon Best (click image to view).
Danish born, Johannes Andersen (1873-1962) was a poet, historian, keen book collector and the Alexander Turnbull Library’s first librarian; while the ethnologist Elsdon Best (1856-1931) was a foundation member of the Polynesian Society and a member of staff of the Dominion Museum. Both men were members of ethnological expeditions organised by the Dominion Museum during the early 1920s and in 1925 Best invited Andersen to co-edit the Journal of the Polynesian Society.
Given Andersen and Best’s professional association it is perhaps not surprising to find their names together in the one book but when and where did the volume change hands? The date next to Best’s name, 24 May 1882, suggests that Best purchased the book not long after it was published and was probably its first owner. Perhaps Best gave the book to Andersen when he was writing Myths and legends of the Polynesians, published in 1928; a handsome first edition of which is also in the New Zealand Glass Case. In the preface Andersen writes of Best “I wish to acknowledge his assistance … particularly, and also that of the Venerable Archdeacon Williams, both of whom have ever been ready with their help and criticism pungent and salutary.”
Katherine Pawley, Special Collections
Andersen, Johannes Carl. Myths and legends of the Polynesians. London: Harrap. 1928. Special Collections NZ Glass Case 398.2 A544. (page 4)
Shortland, Edward. Maori religion and mythology: illustrated by translations of traditions, karakia &c. to which are added notes on Maori tenure of land. London: Longmans, Green, 1882. Special Collections NZ Glass Case 299.95 S55 copy 2.
Jeffrey Sissons. 'Best, Elsdon - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1 September 2010
P. J. Gibbons. 'Andersen, Johannes Carl - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1 September 2010