The library of the Irish judge William O’Brien (1832-1899) is a microcosm of the late nineteenth-century taste for book collecting. There is a handful of medieval manuscripts, about 100 incunabula, numerous Aldine editions as well as three Shakespeare folios, a number of sixteenth-century English books and some fine collected works of English literature.
O’Brien’s interest in early printing led him to seek out books from as many different print shops as possible, from prolific printers such as Nicolas Jenson and Anton Koberger to more uncommon ones such as Leonhardus Aurl, and in particular from the earlier printshops in each town; the majority of the incunabula date from the 1470s. The Aldines comprise not just the publications of Aldus the elder but books from many branches of the Manuzio-Torresani printing dynasty and some counterfeits from Lyon and Florence.
The collection was purchased from many of the most important sales of the nineteenth century, including Henry Drury, Gosford, Hamilton Palace, Syston Park, Osterley Park, Michael Wodhull and the Sunderland Library. Much of his library was purchased at the sale of his friend Sir Edward Sullivan, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1890.