Books, architecture, enlightenment... and global development

By staff writers
May 8, 2009

A celestial atlas by Scottish amateur astronomer Alexander Jamieson, dating back to 1822, is a star item at this year's Christian Aid charity book sale in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It is one of the largest sales of its kind in the world and will raise money for vital development work and global justice advocacy by the UK-based international development agency.

The second-hand book bonanza, held annually for the last 35 years at the Church of St Andrew and St George in the city centre, runs from 11 to 15 May. It has raised some £1.7 million for Christian Aid over the years.

Thousands of donated books from rare antiquarian editions to popular paperbacks are on sale. Other items include pictures, music, records and a variety of ephemera ranging through maps, photographs, letters and post cards from two world wars and a signed photograph of the German-born actress and singer, Marlene Dietrich.

Ried Zulager, an American company secretary for a technology firm in Washington who has spent his holidays working at the fair for some 18 years, described the handsomely bound Jamieson star atlas - which was anonymously donated - as a gem.

"It's a lovely artistic object as well as an actual accurate description of all the stars the eye can see (in the northern hemisphere) in a scientific manner," he said, showing off the volume dedicated to King George IV.

The 30 original hand-coloured maps are intact and are accompanied by tables showing the relative brightness of each individual star and other astronomical details.

The Christian Aid Book Sale will also proudly feature a first edition of Dugald Stewart's 'Outlines of Moral Philosophy', published in 1793. This echoes the theme of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival: The Enlightenment, Scotland's “18th Century revolution of thought”.

Dugald Stewart was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh from 1785 until 1810. His pupils included Sir Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey, Henry Thomas Cockburn (of the Cockburn Society) and the young Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers. Edinburgh University has recently named a building in Stewart's honour which was the joint winner of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award 2008.

One of the judges of the award, celebrated architect Professor Andy MacMillan, (four times winner of the RIBA Award for Architecture) visited the church to meet volunteers on Thursday 7 May.

St Andrew's and St George's Parish Church in George Street was built in the 1780s in the heart of Edinburgh's historic New Town. Its architecture displays the influence of the Enlightenment and is famed for its unusual elliptical shape, and magnificent ceiling in the style of Robert Adam.

The city centre has seen many changes and the Book Sale organisers say they are very grateful for all the assistance offered during the recent tram construction works. They hope that the increased bus service to the door of the church will help bring new customers to the sale.

Christian Aid commented: "The generosity of Edinburgh’s public has been such that extra space will be needed for all the books and Forth Ports PLC and Ormiston Transport of Leith have together generously donated and delivered a shipping container to the church. Off-site storage space for the church furniture has also been provided by City of Edinburgh Council."

In this year of 'homecoming' (a campaign by the Scottish government to encourage 'exiles' to return, at least for a visit or holiday) the Christian Aid Book Sale also has a beautifully-bound first edition of Letters from the Mountains by Anne Grant, who was born in Glasgow in 1755.

Anne spent her childhood in America where her father was stationed with the British army. At the age of five, she and her mother moved with the regiment from Albany to Oswego, travelling by boat up the Mohawk River, sleeping in the woods and forts along the way. On returning to Scotland in 1768, her father accepted a post at Fort Augustus in Inverness-shire in 1772.

The first volume of the Letters records their journey from Glasgow and Anne's growing attraction to Highland life and culture. She married the Rev James Grant, minister of Laggan in 1779; there she learnt Gaelic, collected folk tales and began translating Gaelic poetry into English. Following her husband's death in 1801, she supported her large family by her writing and the Letters were published in 1806.

Other donations include letters and postcards from both World Wars and a wonderful collection of Edwardian Gilbert and Sullivan books, some important books about the island of Skye and collectable 60s and 70s film, theatre and exhibition posters.

You can also buy Christian Aid gifts and support present aid online.

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