There are at least two meanings of the word “Library”. The first meaning is a room where books are kept. At Duff House there were very grand plans for what would have been a truly wonderful library space. The East wing, part of the original William Adam design, was to have it’s whole top floor, 80 feet by 60 feet, designated as the Library. Of course this was never built due to the dispute between William Adam and his client, William Duff, who later became the 1st Earl Fife – who never lived at Duff House anyway!
The 2nd Earl Fife, James, was however clearly – from references in his letters many of which still exist – a very well read gentleman, and he designated what we know today as the Long Gallery in Duff House to be his Library. He certainly tried to look after his book collection and, for example, in February 1789 he instructed that the windows and bookcases be thrown open, and his large books of prints laid out for airing. The 4th Earl was an equally avid book collector and by the end of the 19th century the Duff House Library held 15,000 volumes.
Today, the designated “Library” is two rooms on the second floor, which contains a number of glass fronted bookcases with a very fine collection within them – but not the original Duff Library! This is because the 1st Duke of Fife gave Duff House and it’s estate to the people of Banff and Macduff in 1907 and the collection of books was taken out of the House. When the restoration, completed in 1995, was being planned Duff House was very fortunate to get permission from the Dunimarle Trustees to allow it’s collection of furniture, artefacts and books to be installed.
The Dunimarle Library – now stored in various places in Duff House – has over 4,500 volumes collected by members of the Erskine family from Torrie House in Fife. The Erskines thrived at much the same time as the Duffs and shared many parallels; this even extended to their names, such as William and James! Both families were avid collectors, of artefacts, paintings and books. The subjects covered by the Dunimarle Library are similar to those known to have been in the original Duff House Library, classics, history, geography, news, law, economics, heraldry, travel; typical subjects for serious libraries of the 18th and 19th centuries to include. One clear – and interesting – difference was that the original Duff House Library included many Spanish books – because of the 4th Earl Fife’s travel there; and the Dunimarle family library instead has a major section on India and the far east because of John the 4th Baronet of Torrie.
Some of the key books were, perhaps not unexpectedly, the same in both Libraries. A 17th century Bible, Hume’s 1786 History of England, 18th century works of Shakespeare, Bartolozzi engravings. While enquiries continue for a complete list of the original Duff House collection, the Friends of Duff House many years ago completed a full catalogue of the Dunimarle Library – which can be viewed in the Study inside the House (once it re-opens) and which it is hoped will go on-line in the future. Meanwhile all 929 Dunimarle Library books published in the British Isles before 1801 are listed on the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).