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The hottest birds in town

...and the tightest security as new Central Library reveals hidden treasures

Written by . Published on May 16th 2013.

The hottest birds in town

THE name’s Bond, Book Bond.

The mission: to act as lookout for the world’s most expensive book, due to be unveiled to the public in Liverpool, on Friday.

Maybe Liverpool City Council’s Library Service thought about hiring Merseyside’s own 007, Daniel Craig, to eye up the security surrounding a volume of work so rare it is untouchable.

After all, if the world’s best known secret agent is good enough for the Queen, he’ll do for William Brown Street, thank you very much.

“Oh, our security people have done much better than 007,” said Cllr Wendy Simon, council cabinet member for culture.

Img_2081Joyce LittleSo what about ‘Q’, the council’s own head of libraries, Joyce Little.  She was so tight lipped about the tight security – maybe she was in the dark herself.

As the assembled collection of reporters and camera crews awaited an audience with John James Audubon's Birds of America, the rules of engagement were read out, a sort of cultural Riot Act.

Nobody would be allowed to touch the book on its way from its fire-proof, bomb-proof home somewhere in the hidden bowels of the new £50m Central Library complex. It would be carefully taken to the specially made case, made from shatterproof and bullet proof glass.

We could take photographs of the book, its pages spread open, before its security screen descended.

The media mob were then ordered out of the room to prevent anyone watching the security measures put into place.


Lasers, alarms, sirens, and devices we have probably never even heard of guard Audubon's Birds of America with a security lock-down that would impress the residents of 10 Downing Street.

So how much is this book worth? Joyce Little’s lips remain sealed. Wendy Simon smiled, and said millions. Not bad for something bought in the 1800s for £200.

I reckon the collection, one of the few in public ownership, would fetch £20m to £30m at an international auction.

So for a book that will be rarely seen, untouched and guarded more than Royalty, wouldn’t it be worth flogging to help the city out of the doldrums?

“Absolutely not,” said Cllr Simon, “This book itself will attract visitors to Liverpool and over the years it will well earn its keep. It is a treasure we will keep for future generations.”

Other amazing written works on show for the first time from Friday include a hand-written letter by Queen Elizabeth I, an original manuscript written by William Shakespeare and a prize-winning essay about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, penned by a 10 year old Paul McCartney.

And, looking like it was scribbled on the pack of a ciggie packet – the actual Letters Patent from King John which, in 1207, gave Liverpool its freedom.

The new Central Library has been transformed under a £50m PFI (Private Finance Initiative) agreement that will cost the council £2m a year for 25 years.

The deal was struck by the previous Lib Dem administration and inherited by Mayor Joe Anderson.

Whatever the cost the library will be a major national attraction and will without doubt be in the running for a collection of gongs and awards.

The old parts, which their leather bound volumes in polished wooden cases, sit alongside electronic books. There’s even a soundproof room where young library visitors can play x-Box games without ever hearing even once that most famous word in the world of libraries …. Shhhhhh.

Everybody knows about the bird....

John James AudubonJohn James AudubonThe Birds of America was a labour of love consuming much of the life of its creator, naturalist and painter John James Audubon (born 1785).

Haitian-born Audubon was the illegitimate son of a French cargo ship captain and Creole mother. He was brought up in France but, fled to America to escape Napoleonic conscription.

It was then that he embarked on an ambitious mission to illustrate every bid native to his new homeland. 

Arriving in Britain to try to secure patronage for his project, Audubon ended up in Liverpool for a while as the new chum of the Rathbones. He also exhibited at The Royal Institution in Colquitt Street, now part of the East Village Arts Club. 

The Birds of America was first published as a series in sections between 1827 and 1838, in Edinburgh and London and the volume found in Liverpool Central Library was purchased with a donation by William Brown's partner in America, Joseph Shipley. 

The work consists of hand-coloured, life-size prints, made from engraved plates, measuring around 39 by 26 inches (99 by 66 cm). It includes images of six now-extinct birds: Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon, Labrador Duck, Great Auk, Esquimaux Curlew, and Pinnated Grouse. 

It is one of only 100 or so in the world. In 2010, a copy sold for more than £7m at Sotheby's in London. It remains one of the most significant natural history books in the world.   

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LarryMay 16th 2013.

...or even "The name's Bond...Basildon Bond".

TonyMay 18th 2013.

Pfi seems too good to be true,surely they would expect more return for their investment .

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 20th 2013.

We pay them £50m over 25 years. for all we know the work may have only cost them £20m.

AnonymousMay 21st 2013.

For all you know, yes But maybe the people making the decisions are a little more enlightened and less in the dark than you are

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