Four fabulous finds in the library

Penicillin, a wedding apron and the heaviest calculator* in the world are just some of the fabulous finds that you’ll find in Rare Books & Special Collections. Housing the library’s rare, vulnerable and most valuable publications and objects, Special Collections is a treasure trove for students, academics and researchers. Today we’d like to shine the spotlight on just four of our favourite treasures.

1. The wedding apron of Mrs Eva-Maria Garrick

Our first fabulous find is the wedding apron of Mlle Violetti (or Mlle Violette as she came to be known), who was proclaimed by Horace Walpole to be the ‘finest and most admired dancer in the world’.

In 1749 Mlle Violette gave up her career to marry David Garrick, one of the greatest English actors of his generation. The wedding apron, a cream coloured silk apron edged with guipure, is a cherished part of the Theatre Collection.

 2. A vial of penicillin from 1940

Come in and view an early vial of one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time – penicillin. The vial of penicillin held in Rare Books and Special Collections (yes, you read that correctly!) dates from 1940, when penicillin was first produced. The vial was produced by F.H. Faulding & Co and has a connection to Howard Florey.

The vial is held as part of the F.H. Faulding & Co. papers collection (which relate to the early production of penicillin). Learn more about Florey and the discovery of penicillin.

3. Manuscripts made from clothing

Made from venerated monks’ robes (with the script applied in black lacquer and covers decorated in red lacquer and silver and gold) these mid-19th century ordination texts from Myanmar are simply beautiful. Manuscripts like these were commonly ordered to commemorate the entry of a son into the monkhood.

4. The heaviest calculator in the world*

And you thought your laptop was too heavy to carry around… The Fisher Calculator, or for those calculator buffs amongst us, a Brunsviga 20 calculating machine, was manufactured in 1910. It is believed to have been used by Ronald Aylmer Fisher when he was working for the C.S.I.R.O at Waite (and the good news is that it still works).

The calculator is part of the Fisher collection, and is on display in the Rare Books and Special Collections reading room.

About Rare Books and Special Collections

Rare Books and Special Collections is located on Level 1 of the Barr Smith Library. For more information on any of the fabulous finds listed above please call +61 8 8313 5224 or email More information, including opening hours, is available on the website.

*we might have exaggerated somewhat when we said that the calculator was the heaviest in the world. But it is very, very heavy!

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