Treasures of the Library

The Treasures of the Library section highlights the Library of Parliament’s collection of rare books, art and artefacts. It also shines a spotlight on employees and the outstanding work they do on behalf of the Library and provides Canadians with a window into the history, heritage and early exploration of Canada.

A new treasure will be shared every month.

Les singularitez de la France antarctique

Published in 1558, Les singularitez de la France antarctique is the oldest book in the Library of Parliament’s rare book collection. Given its immense historical value, this rare book written by the French Franciscan André Thévet is one of the Library of Parliament’s most valuable holdings.

What the author calls “France antarctique” is actually South America, specifically Brazil. The book describes explorations not only in this part of the world, but also in areas farther north, in what are today the United States and Canada (including Newfoundland). The author describes many Indigenous cultures, plants, exotic fruits and animals, such as toucans, coatis, tapirs, sloths and monkeys. His accounts also provide detailed information about eastern Canada. The places the author explored, the events he witnessed and the landscapes he was able to behold during his travels are depicted in magnificent engravings with at times exaggerated details.

Les singularitez de la France antarctique also includes tales from sailors and explorers who travelled in the New World, including “France antarctique” and what is now Canada. The final chapters are a collection of information on Canada gathered during the voyages of the explorer Jacques Cartier.

The Library of Parliament holds two copies of this book. The original, published in 1558, is kept in a custom-made acid-free box stored in the Rare Book Room. Due to its extremely fragile condition, the book must be handled with the utmost care. The second copy is a new edition published in 1878, with notes and commentary by the French historian Paul Gaffarel. This second copy is kept in a display case, also in the Rare Book Room.

Details

  • Dimensions: 10.5 cm × 16 cm × 2.5 cm.
  • Contents: 355 pages, a number of engravings.
  • It has 18th century Catspaw calf leather binding with a decorative sponge technique. A red leather label with gold tooling is affixed to the spine, and a Library of Parliament label has been placed at the bottom of the spine.
  • The endpapers are marbled.

A digitized version of the book is available on Early Canadiana Online

Spine of the book Singularitez de la France antarctique
Les singularitez de la France antarctique
Singularitez de l'Antarctique - Title Page
Title Page
Singularitez de l'Antarctique - Image of a sloth
Sloth, an animal described in Les singularitez de la France antarctique