Rare Book Week, 24–28 October 2022

Sydney University Press is lucky enough to reside across the corridor from the University of Sydney Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections. In honour of Rare Book Week (24–28 October), the SUP team wanted to share a story that exemplifies how much of a treat this is for us!

Recently we received a cryptic question from Kimberley Williams, Manager of Digital Collections, about a book held in the Rare Books Collection. “Hello! I'm looking at Virginia Woolf's copy of her first book, and just to confirm, is this typesetter's pencil?”


the page of an old book with blue pen marks over some of the words, and a piece of paper stuck over a paragraph with words typed on a typewriter on it     A page from an old book with a long line drawn over the words horizontally, in blue pen

The scanned pages that Kim shared with the team.


Kim shared two images from a copy of The Voyage Out (1915), which most certainly had some rather opinionated notes scrawled across the printed pages – not to mention that a piece of typewritten copy had been pasted over a paragraph. Who would dare do such things to a book?

With this mystery to be solved, the SUP team crossed the foyer to enter the climate-controlled room containing the book itself. Kim and Julie Sommerfeldt, Manager of Rare Books & Special Collections, gently placed the book on a special book pillow for us to carefully turn the pages without causing any damage.



Kim Williams shows Jo Lyons and Susan Murray the edits in The Voyage Out.


Here we learned that the blue-pencil edits on the book’s pages were made by Virginia Woolf herself; this was her own copy of the UK edition of The Voyage Out, which she amended for her US publisher. We marvelled at our proximity to Woolf’s own pencil marks and wondered about her motivations in making such edits. Did she re-read the UK edition and wish she had made these changes to the original? Or was she tailoring the book to a US audience? More mysteries to ponder. Such is the magic of these objects that they can place us inside the minds of some of the world’s most esteemed writers.

An exciting moment – viewing the edits Virginia Woolf made in her copy of The Voyage Out.


It was such a special moment for the team to see this incredible piece of literary history in person. We are very grateful to our colleagues Kim and Julie for sharing this treasure with us.

Rare Book Week gives us an opportunity to appreciate the unique archival materials available to view at the Library. The collection includes early printed books from Europe, Australia, America and Asia, examples of fine printing and binding, and modern limited editions. As we discovered during our visit across the corridor, ownership marks, typesetting marks and annotations provide insights into the history of these significant treasures, the people who worked on them, and their journey to their final home at University of Sydney Library.

To find out more about the University’s collection, and to arrange to view some of these treasures yourself, visit https://www.library.sydney.edu.au/collections/rare-books/

Image credits: Rare Books & Special Collections, the University of Sydney Library