A 1538 edition of letters by the Roman philosopher and statesman Marcus Cicero is among a cache of rare books discovered in Greenock’s Watt Library.
The surprise find was discovered by archivist Neil Dickson who had been working his way through the archives when he stumbled upon a hidden cupboard behind an old plan chest.
He said: "I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the cupboard which obviously hadn’t been opened for twenty, thirty years or longer. I was absolutely stunned when I realised what was inside – I have never seen such a collection of books in one place and certainly not under these circumstances. I am sure the find will be of enormous interest.”
As well as books dating back to the 1530s the collection includes 17th and 18th century volumes on surgery, witchcraft and exploration and a rare 1827 edition – one of only 50 copies – of John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, with illustrations designed and engraved by the visionary artist John Martin.
Inverclyde Council's Education and Communities Convenor Councillor Terry Loughran said: "This really is an incredible find and one that will be talked about in literary circles up and down the country and beyond. As well as books that are nearly 500 years old there is also a 19th century Hamnet edition of Shakespeare’s plays published in Greenock and edited by the then librarian of the Watt Library, Allan Park Paton.
"It is testament to the long traditions of academic excellence in Greenock that such a collection found its way to the Watt Library over the years and I look forward to finding out more about the circumstances and history of the find.”
The collection will be the star attraction of an exhibition as part of the BBC’s Great British Story event at the McLean Museum on Saturday 28 July 2012, which will include walking tours, expert talks and specially created exhibitions about the local history of Inverclyde. The event is free and will take place between 12pm and 4pm.