THE sale of more than 150 historic books from Wigan’s libraries has fetched half a million pounds at auction.
Wigan Council’s decision to sell the treasures – 158 in total, from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries – met with opposition in some quarters as five were pre-1500 and the only copies surviving in Britain.
But the cash-strapped authority defended its decision to put the items up for sale at Bonhams, in London, last week, stating that the volumes were no longer in demand and were not specific to Wigan.
And today it was celebrating a welcome addition to its funds.
A spokesman added that the money raised – £500,000 – would be a major boost to its library services, managed by Wigan, Leisure and Culture Trust.
He said: “Wigan Council has been, and still is, facing huge reductions in government grants totalling £66m over four years.
“In 2011 we restructured Wigan and Leigh’s library service, saving £1.1m and in order to fund this a decision was taken to sell some antiquarian books that are have received little or no public interest since they were acquired and are not intrinsically linked to the borough’s heritage, in that, they contain no information relating to Wigan or its people.
“A number of considerations were taken into account when deciding what to do with these books.
“Wigan’s Library Service does not have the resources or expertise to care for these books – which need to be housed and preserved in the right climate and light controlled conditions and none of the books sold were received as a bequest.
“The items are not Wigan-specific – so there is no loss to the borough’s heritage collection.
“Regardless of whether a public organisation or private collector bought the books, it is unlikely that there would be no potential for them to be accessed by those few academics who have an interest in them.”
An historian, who had tried to prevent the sale of the books was disappointed that the five most antiquated volumes have been taken away from Wigan.
Conradus (Eusebius) - Brevis annotatio in errores scribentium S. Augustinum fuisse eremitam, Sold for £5,000:
Diodorus Siculus - Bibliothecae historicae libri VI. Sold for £6,000:
Horatius Flaccus (Quintus) - Opera. Sold for £11,875;
Angelus De Clavasio - Summa angelica de casibus conscientiae. Sold for £4,000;
Augustine (Aurelius, Saint) De trinitate, Sold for £2,062;
Katie Flanagan, chairman of the Historic Libraries Forum, said: “It seems a shame because those books should still be accessible to researchers. These books did belong to the people of Wigan.
“But I hope the WLCT and council use the money for more library books and I hope the works don’t disappear into private hands and are maintained to proper standards.”
The forum had voiced concerns that the books unique to Britain might be sold abroad. Bonhams have declined to disclose any details of the buyers so it is not known whether this fear has been fulfilled.