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Exeter Cathedral treasure found in Oxfam bookshop

07 November 2014

ellie jones

Restored: Anne Barwood, Canon Librarian, examining the newly recovered volume

Restored: Anne Barwood, Canon Librarian, examining the newly recovered volume

AN UNUSUAL email to library staff at Exeter Cathedral has led to the unearthing of a 16th-century copy of the New Testament in a Surrey charity shop.

The volume, Jesu Christi D.N. Nouum Testamentum, was edited by the Frenchman Theodore Beza, an important figure in the Reformation and a contemporary of John Calvin. It was published in 1574 by Thomas Vautrollier, a French Huguenot refugee who became a leading printer of religious books in England.

It was recognised by a browser in the Oxfam shop in Dorking, Surrey, who noticed that it contained a dedication to E. C. Harington, dated 1869. He was Edward Charles Harington, a former Canon Chancellor of Exeter Cathedral. On his death in 1881, his extensive collection of books was bequeathed to the Dean and Chapter.

The cathedral's Canon Librarian, Ann Barwood, said: "The man who found it thought it might have been stolen from our library and got in touch.

"Checks in our computer catalogue and the 19th-century catalogue of the Harington Collection failed to find it, but neither are comprehensive, and several books were stolen from the library in the 1970s and '80s.

"We contacted the shop manager, a lovely woman called Mary Palfrey. Oxfam's legal department had suggested it should be returned to Exeter, and, when I asked about the cost, Mary just said cover the postage; but our initial research suggested that this particular edition could be rare; so we decided a reasonable donation should be made instead."

Mrs Palfrey said: "We think the donor knew the book was stolen and was getting rid of it by slipping it into a boxful of ordinary cookery, gardening, and paperback books. There was no name attached.

"We do occasionally get antiquarian books - we recently sold a 17th-century Bible for £600 - and we put it on sale for £750, but then one of our regulars who looks after an antiquarian library spotted it and thought it might have been stolen from Exeter. The cathedral gave us £100, which was really generous."

A books-and-manuscript specialist at Bonhams auctioneers, Luke Batterham, has valued the volume at £400-£600.

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