The Life of Objects exhibition at The John Rylands Library

16 March–27 August 2017
FREE entry

Ordinarily when I think about going to an exhibition at The John Rylands Library, I think of the wonderful books and manuscripts that I will be lucky enough to see that day. On my most recent visit to the library though, it was a range of fascinating objects that told stories and tales.

The objects in their most recent exhibition, “The Life of Objects” on the face of it appear humble. For example, on display you can see a button, a purse, cameras and writing equipment.

The stories behind the items on display are far from ordinary though as you learn the life of the people that they belonged to. For me one of the most inspiring pieces were the quill pens and sewing scissors that belonged to Elizabeth Gaskell and a button owned by Walt Whitman. Objects on display are also linked to figures such as 20th century composer Delia Derbyshire, the preacher John Wesley and the artist Li Yuan chia.


Although the stories that are told by the objects on display are personal belongings, the exhibition addresses themes that visitors can relate to themselves. The purse that tells the tale of unrequited love and baby shoes that belonged to a well-known poet for instance.

To learn the tales of the objects in The John Rylands collection yourself, head along to the library before 27 August 2017. You can see a behind the scenes video of the exhibition by clicking here.

If you are planning a visit to the library, there are a range of events on linked to the exhibition. You can see the Columbian printing press in action and find out more about the history of printing. For families, you can make your own keepsake.

Make a day of it and find out more about Manchester’s literary figures at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House or The International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

Image Credits: The University of Manchester Library.