Royal College of Physicians of London and the lost library of John Dee

We’re pleased to welcome a new contributor to Copac, the library of the Royal College of Physicians of London.

The Royal College of Physicians of London (RCP) is the professional body for physicians, with over 30,000 members and fellows across the globe. The RCP has an extensive library, supporting the needs of its members and reflecting their interests since the RCP’s foundation in 1518. Today the print collections number more than 55,000 titles, including current clinical, educational and professional resources, secondary sources on the history of medicine and a large collection of rare books whose highlights include 119 items from before 1501, and over 100 books previously owned by Elizabethan astrologer John Dee.

Portrait of John Dee. Stipple engraving by Robert Cooper after unknown artist, late 18th to early 19th century.

Portrait of John Dee. Stipple engraving by Robert Cooper after unknown artist, late 18th to early 19th century.

John Dee (1527–1609) was one of Tudor England’s most extraordinary and enigmatic figures – a Renaissance polymath, with interests in almost all branches of learning. The Royal College of Physicians of London library holds more than 100 volumes stolen from Dee during his lifetime, the largest single collection of Dee’s books in the world. From 18 January until 29 July 2016 a new exhibition at the RCP will display many of these for the first time.

Dee’s evocative sketch of a ship in full sail. Opera. Cicero, published Paris, 1539. © Royal College of Physicians / John Chase

Dee’s evocative sketch of a ship in full sail. Opera. Cicero, published Paris, 1539. © Royal College of Physicians / John Chase

Dee built, and lost, one of the greatest private libraries of 16th century England. He claimed to own over 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts. The authors and subjects of Dee’s books are wide-ranging, and reflect his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and expertise. They include diverse topics such as mathematics, natural history, music, astronomy, military history, cryptography, ancient history and alchemy. These books give us an extraordinary insight into Dee’s interests and beliefs and personality through his hand-written illustrations and annotations.

While Dee travelled to Europe in the 1580s, he entrusted the care of his library and laboratories to his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond. But according to Dee, he ‘unduely sold it presently upon my departure, or caused it to be carried away’. A large number of Dee’s books came into the possession of Nicholas Saunder. Little is known about Saunder, or whether he personally stole Dee’s books. Saunder must, however,  have known that his books once belonged to Dee, because he repeatedly tried to erase or overwrite Dee’s signature with his own. Given that several books have part of the title page missing, we can also assume that Saunder probably cut and tore signatures from some books. Saunder’s collections later passed to Henry Pierrepont, the Marquis of Dorchester: a devoted book collector. Dorchester’s family presented his entire library to the RCP after his death in 1680, where this exceptional collection of early printed books remains today.

John Dee’s signature. Cinquante jeus divers d’honnete entretien. Innocenzio Ringhieri, published Lyon, 1555. © Royal College of Physicians / Mike Fear

John Dee’s signature. Cinquante jeus divers d’honnete entretien. Innocenzio Ringhieri, published Lyon, 1555. © Royal College of Physicians / Mike Fear

The exhibition ‘Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee’ runs from 18 January until 29 July 2016.

You can browse a list of the books in the RCP Dee exhibition on Copac.


Celebration of Christmas

Image from "The Coming of Father Christmas", 1894

Nativity image from “The Coming of Father Christmas”, 1894. British Library images.

For Christmas, we’re highlighting a selection of seasonal books, music and other material from some of our contributing libraries.

Carols and Music

In amongst the many works of Christmas Carols on Copac I’ve picked out a few that particularly appealed.

Chetham’s Library and the National Library of Scotland hold a song sheet entitled ‘The twelve good joys of Mary: a carol, for the twelve days of Christmas’ (also known by the first line ‘First good joy that Mary had’). This is believed to have been printed by George Angus (1783-1829), who was active in Newcastle between 1813 and 1825:

Records on Copac

The National Trust Libraries hold the book ‘Choice carols for Christmas holydays’. Changing tastes are reflected within this book that contains some carols still familiar today but others rather less so. Published in England in c.1800, songs include: ‘God rest you merry gentlemen’, ‘In friendly love and unity’, ‘Upon the 25th. of December’ and ‘When bloody Herod reigned king’:

Records on Copac

The Royal Academy of Music’s collection includes ‘Rumanian folk music. Vol.4 Carols and Christmas music (Colinde)’ by Bela Bartok, published in The Hague in 1975. This volume was formerly owned by the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999):

Record on Copac

Children’s Books

First published in 1785 is the wonderfully named ‘Christmas tales: for the amusement and instruction of young ladies and gentlemen in winter evenings’ by Solomon Sobersides. Copies printed and sold by J. Marshall and Co. “… ordered all the booksellers, both in town and country, to make a present of it to good girls and boys, they paying six-pence only to defray the expences of binding”.

Libraries holding this book include Cambridge University (Special Collections), V & A National Art Library and York University:

Records on Copac

Image of reindeer pulling children in sledges

Image: Reindeer pulling children in sledges (1803). Wellcome Library, London. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

‘The home of Santa Claus : a story of Leslie Gordon’s visit to Father Christmas, and of the strange sights he beheld in the town of toys’ by George A. Best was published in 1900 and illustrated from photographs by Arthur Ullyett. Holding libraries include Oxford University and Liverpool University:

Records on Copac

Published around 1780-1800, ‘Mirth without mischief’, contains the English Folk song ‘The twelve days of Christmas’. It also includes the intriguing sounding ‘play of the gaping-wide-mouthed-wadling frog’. Libraries holding this illustrated children’s book include the British Library, Edinburgh University and Leeds University:

Records on Copac

Classic Christmas stories

Photo of a Christmas tree made of books

Image ‘Bibliojela’ (a Christmas tree made of books) by ToopaGia.

A Christmas Carol

Published in to critical acclaim in 1843 as ‘A Christmas carol: In prose. Being a ghost story of Christmas’, we follow the transformation of Scrooge’s character through his chilling encounters with the ghosts of Marley, Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Libraries holding the first edition of this well-loved story by Charles Dickens include City of London, Guildhall Library and University of London, Senate House Libraries:

Records on Copac

The Night Before Christmas

This magical poem was first published c.1870 as ‘Santa Claus: or, The night before Christmas’ by Clement C. Moore in New York. Also known as ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, it inspired many Christmas traditions and popular culture An early edition is held by Trinity College Dublin Library:

Record on Copac

***Happy Christmas from the Copac team!***

Exhibition at Middle Temple Library: 250 years of Blackstone’s Commentaries

Renae Satterley, Deputy Librarian at Middle Temple Library, writes about their forthcoming exhibition.

Photo of Unidentified bookplate found in the second copy of the second edition of the Commentaries (shelfmark BAY L551)

Unidentified bookplate found in the second copy of the second edition of the Commentaries (shelfmark BAY L551)

Middle Temple Library will be hosting an exhibition from Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. This exhibition was curated by Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, and Wilfrid Prest, Professor Emeritus of History and Law at the University of Adelaide.

Image: 4.A colour plate from The Comic Blackstone

A colour plate from The Comic Blackstone

The exhibition was first shown at Yale from March to June 2015. It will be on display at Middle Temple Library from September to November, after which it will be on display at the Sir John Salmond Law Library at the University of Adelaide from December 2015 to January 2016.

The exhibition features over 40 items from Yale’s Law Library collection which depict the origins of the Commentaries, its publishing success and its impact on the common law system and more broadly on English and American society. The items include a volume annotated by one of Blackstone’s students, a legal treatise with Blackstone’s marginalia, the first English editions of the Commentaries, early Irish and American pirated editions, abridgments, teaching aids, student manuscripts, critiques, translations (into French, German, Italian, and Chinese), and a 1963 liquor advertisement.

Image: Portrait of Blackstone

Portrait of Blackstone

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) was a member of Middle Temple, admitted 20 November 1741, called to the Bar 28 November 1746 and made a Bencher (i.e. senior member of the Inn) on 1 May 1761. Sir William was Vinerian Professor of the Law of England at Oxford in 1758. Although he was “particularly fond of architecture and poetry” upon entering Middle Temple he gave up his first love to concentrate on the study of law. While Vinerian Professor, he presented a course of lectures which later became the foundation of the Commentaries.

The Commentaries was first printed in four volumes in 1765-9, later going through thirteen English editions in the 18th century alone, while also being published in Dublin and Philadelphia. The book continues to be published up to this day. According to his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, the “tortuous” complexities of the common law “were outlined in a manner at once authoritative, clear, elegant, and even engaging” and the Commentaries “would become the most celebrated, widely circulated, and influential law book ever published in the English language.”

Image: Bookplate of Sir William Blackstone

Bookplate of Sir William Blackstone

In 1759 Sir William donated his own copy of The Great charter and Charter of the forest to Middle Temple Library. The library also holds his personal copy (with bookplate) of Thomas Wentworth’s The office and duty of executors. Unfortunately the latter is damaged, with the title page missing, and was thus mis-catalogued in our collection until recently.

While the library is not open to members of the public, the exhibition can be viewed by making an appointment with the Deputy Librarian ( The library is also participating in the event ‘Open House London: Revealing Magna Carta’ on 19 and 20 September where Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Temple Church and the Royal Courts of Justice will be open to the public. Full details on this event are available at:

The exhibition catalogue, which was published with the support of William S. Hein & Co., is available to download for free at: Mark S Weiner has created a video interview with Professor Wilfrid Prest which can be viewed here:

Further information about Yale Law Library’s rare books can be found here: Information about the Law Library at the University of Adelaide can be found here:

Last but not least, information about Middle Temple Library can be found at:

Renae Satterley is Deputy Librarian at Middle Temple Library and has been working at the library since January 2006, when she was hired as Rare Books Librarian. She completed her MLIS at McGill University in 2004 and worked at Emmanuel College Cambridge from 2004-2005. She is currently Chair of CILIP’s Library & Information History Group and has written on the history of Robert Ashley’s (1565-1641) library.

Middle East collections at the University of Exeter

Afzal Hasan, Subject Specialist Librarian for Arabic and Islamic Studies
at the University of Exeter, explains his role and describes their Middle East collections.

I look after the Middle East, Politics and Security Studies Collections at the University of Exeter. My official role is Academic Support Consultant – or Subject Librarian. This is a fairly specialist role given the languages used: Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, Turkish as well as the familiar western languages. I’ve been doing this since 2010, employed initially as the Mid-East Librarian – previously having volunteered at the Bodleian, and having worked at British Councils in the Middle East as a teacher.

Exeter is a major centre in the UK for Arabic & Islamic Studies with Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies [IAIS] and related Area Studies eg Kurdish Studies.

Photo of Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS) Building

Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS) Building

Besides a growing and comprehensive modern collection on the Middle East especially given the world of today, I will mention a collection which retains uniqueness. At first IAIS contained the nationally recognised Arab World Documentation Unit [AWDU] but now this has relocated to the Old Library. On the collections in AWDU I wrote the following description on our webpages:

The Arab World Documentation Unit – AWDU – located [now] in the Research Commons Old Library provides unique collections, totalling over 100,000 items on Arab Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, United Arab Emirates as well as the wider Arab world including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. AWDU collects mainly documentary reference material such as statistical data, country reports, official publications, political opposition newsletters and Pan-Arab literature. The Unit holds substantial archival, historical and sociological material from the mid-18th century onwards, such as the Bombay Diaries (held in Special Collections – 16,000 selected photocopied pages from 1778 to 1820) which were originally the ledgers of the Secret & Political Department in Bombay, contents guide is here, as well as microfilms from British, American, Indian, French and Portuguese government archives and around 500 volumes of reproduced documents from the British Public Records Office published by Archive Editions. There are also important collections of private papers and diaries such as the valuable Uri Davis collection – containing 2600 volumes of books, 600 pamphlets and 400 volumes/boxes of periodicals mainly dealing with the Arab-Israeli Conflict, as well as microfiche holdings of documents on Palestine during the Mandate period and after 1948.

Photo of Sir William Luce

Sir William Luce

The emphasis on the Mid East gulf you’ll note is a particular strength. The collection of private and personal papers include those of Sir Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), Advisor to the Rulers of Bahrain, 1926-57. Sir William Luce (1907-77), British Governor of Aden, 1956-60; Political Resident in the Gulf, 1961-6; British Special Representative for Gulf Affairs (in charge of Britain’s withdrawal from the Gulf), 1966-72.

The main Library – the Forum Library contains the modern bulk of Middle East material as well as Politics, and Security Studies.

Image of Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon - Cover

Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, Vol I – Cover

Being the Arabist that I am, I should say my favourite item in all of the collections must be Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon – a work of 30 years’ superlative scholarship. It’s been my constant companion since my undergraduate days. The Islamic Texts Society brought out a superb two volume edition in 1984.

For me, what’s really exciting is the University of Exeter’s Digital First Strategy, the Open Access Movement, the events and dynamics taking place in the world, internationalisation strategy, and how the Library continues to play its part.

Afzal Hasan MCLIP
Librarian: Arabic | Politics | Security Studies
University of Exeter

Explore Copac records for Arabic language materials at the University of Exeter Library.

All images copyright the University of Exeter Library and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

The Aldine Collection at University of Manchester

2015 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the world’s most famous commercial printer, the Italian Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) who brought the Greek and Roman classics to the masses through the new technology of printing, introduced the world to italic type, and pioneered the pocket format book we now take for granted. Merchants of Print: from Venice to Manchester celebrates the legacy of Aldus as an innovative scholar-businessman who founded the Aldine Press in Venice at the end of the fifteenth century and sought to produce critical editions of the classical authors. It also examines how such a rich collection was amassed in a city more famous for its textiles than its texts, more associated with mills than libraries.

Old Aldine Room, The John Rylands Library

Old Aldine Room, The John Rylands Library

New storage, library extension 2007

New storage, library extension 2007

The John Rylands Library has held, since its inception, a discrete collection of Aldines once housed in an octagonal room in one of the towers at the front of the building. This collection arrived at the Rylands as part of the outstanding library of George John 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834), which was purchased from his grandson, the 5th Earl, by Mrs Rylands in 1892. After the construction of a new extension which opened in 2007, the Aldine collection – along with the incunabula and other significant collections, were moved into the modern store. Following a bequest in 2010, the library began a project to reorganise, rehouse and recatalogue the collection. This has included incorporating non Spencer copies, previously dispersed elsewhere in the collections, bringing the total to 2,000 volumes which represents about 1200 separate editions.

The collection has always been inclusive, going beyond editions printed by Aldus, his son Paolo and grandson Aldus to include other editions associated with the press (such as some by his in-laws, the Torresani) and also editions identified as counterfeits. It has been reorganised following the arrangement used by the published catalogue of the Ahmanson-Murphy Aldine Collection at UCLA.   At the end of the project each item has a detailed description on the library catalogue, following internationally recognised standards for rare books cataloguing, including information on editors, translators, inscriptions, annotations, previous owners, bindings and reference to the standard bibliographies (Renouard and Ahmanson-Murphy).

Thus, the exhibition is able to commemorate not only the 500th anniversary of Aldus’s death, but also celebrate the end of almost five years work on the collection. Attention in the past has mostly been focussed on the high spots, of which there are many. One example is the first Italian work published in the Aldine octavo series – ‘Le cose volgari’ by Petrarch in 1501. The collection includes two copies, one displays the arms of the editor, Pietro Bembo and also has a long trail of provenance – almost complete from publication to the present day. It moved from Venice to Vienna, Leiden, Rome, Naples, London, Northamptonshire and finally to Manchester. The second copy has the arms of the Barbarigo family, who had provided financial support for the press. Lord Spencer briefly owned another copy decorated by his wife Lavinia with a gem engraved by Nathaniel Marchant. He presented this to his fellow bibliophile Thomas Grenville in 1796. It is now in the British Library. All three are parchment copies.

Image of the arms of Pietro Bembo

Petrarca, Le cose volgari (1501). Arms of Pietro Bembo

Image of the arms of Barbarigo family

Petrarca, Le cose volgari (1501). Arms of Barbarigo family

The systematic recataloguing to include binding and provenance information for all copies has uncovered the great depths of the collection and especially in relation to the existence of multiple copies of editions. This particular strength provides a major resource for the study of the distribution and impact of a single press, and offers a microcosm for the history of collecting and book collectors over five centuries. The project has opened up possibilities for new research, for example on collectors, bindings, extremely rare editions such as a group published by Paolo Manuzio for the Accademia Veneziana. It provided impetus for our collaboration with the University of York on the identification of animal species of parchment, based on the outstanding examples printed in parchment in the collection. We see this as an ongoing process, with many questions and puzzles still unanswered.

The expansion of the collection beyond the core gathered together by Spencer has provided the opportunity to highlight other collectors and drawn attention to the literary and educational cultures of nineteenth century Manchester and individual figures such as Richard Copley Christie, Bishop James Prince Lee, Joseph Thompson, David Lloyd Roberts and Walter Bullock.

Image of Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro Cortegiano (1541).

Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro Cortegiano (1541). Annotations of Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton. Annotations of Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton

We will continue to add to the collection when we can, attempting to fill the gaps of missing editions and variant issues – a very difficult task, but mostly focussing on adding other interesting copies. This copy of the 1541 edition of Castiglione’s Courtier was purchased at the Kenneth Rapoport sale in October 2012. There are extensive annotations in this copy by Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614). From 1667 to 1873 it was in the library of the Royal Society and more recently the book was owned by the Oxford physician and bibliophile Bent Juel-Jensen.

Julianne Simpson
Rare Books and Maps Collections Manager,
Special Collections,
John Rylands Library

Explore Copac records for the Aldine collection at the University of Manchester

All images copyright the John Rylands Library and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

Celebrating 350 years of the Scientific Journal: The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

The journal as a medium for communicating scientific knowledge is something we are all familiar with today. But just over 350 years ago this style of publication did not exist; those practicing science relied on monographs, pamphlets, and on personal correspondence with colleagues across the world.

Title page of Philosophical Transactions issue one, March 1665

Title page of Philosophical Transactions issue one, March 1665. Image copyright: the Royal Society

On the 6th March 2015 the Royal Society celebrates the 350th anniversary of its journal, the Philosophical Transactions, the earliest and longest-running scientific journal in the world. This blog briefly highlights episodes in the history of the Philosophical Transactions, from its beginnings in 1665 when the ‘journal’ was yet to be defined as a genre of scientific publishing, to its continued production in today’s electronic age.

Henry Oldenburg

Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society and founder of the Philosophical Transactions, first published in 1665. Image copyright: the Royal Society

The history of the Philosophical Transactions is the focus of a project based at the University of St Andrews entitled ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the economic, social and cultural history of a learned journal, 1665-2015’. The early history of the Transactions is framed by the activities of Henry Oldenburg, polyglot and secretary to the Royal Society from 1663 to 1677, who spent a brief period in the Tower of London in 1667 for suspected treason, as a result of his receipt and translation of foreign correspondence during the Anglo-Dutch War. It was Oldenburg’s skill as translator, however, and his connections to men of science across Europe that provided the content for his nascent journal, the Transactions, in 1665, and created a form of print whose flexibility, diversity of content and speed of transmission immediately captured the imagination of seventeenth century ‘natural philosophers’ and sparked a revolution in science communication. The Transactions continued to be a prestigious publication into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was particularly important as practitioners of science became increasingly eager in the nineteenth century to see their discoveries published rapidly and to secure the credit for their inventions.

The Review of the Works of the Royal Society’ by John Hill, a book-length satirical critique of the Philosophical Transactions, attacking its past papers

The Review of the Works of the Royal Society’ by John Hill, a book-length satirical critique of the Philosophical Transactions, attacking its past papers. Image copyright: the Royal Society

As well as the notable successes of the journal, the Transactions came up against a number of challenges: it survived in the face of criticism in the eighteenth century from a disenfranchised few outside the Society who believed the Society was not publishing the most scientific papers, and managed to ride out reform in the Royal Society in the nineteenth century due to unrest among the Fellowship. Interwoven with the social, political and cultural circumstances of the journal’s development are the stories of men and women of science who sought publication in the journal. Their experiences reveal how the editorial and reviewing processes evolved from Oldenburg’s sole editorial power, through decision-making by committee, to the use of written referee reports and discipline-based advisory editors.

Charles Darwin: long-winded geologist

Charles Darwin: long-winded geologist. Image copyright: the Royal Society

Even the naturalist Charles Darwin, for example, had to go through the reviewing process to get his paper published in the Transactions: Darwin faced criticism in 1839 from his referee, Adam Sedgwick, for the unnecessary wordiness in his paper on the parallel roads of Glen Roy. The paper was the only paper Darwin ever published in the Transactions (though he later acted as a referee on papers).

The financial history of the Transactions is also important, and up to the 1940s the journal ran at a loss. It was only after World War II that the journal’s income consistently exceeded expenditure. Today, the Society’s publishing section now hosts ten journals in total and has grown to include academic editors, commissioning editors and other professional members of a production team of twenty. The journal is delivered largely electronically and is distributed through institutional subscription rather than individual subscribers. The Royal Society and its publishing division, including Philosophical Transactions, continue to be at the forefront of debates about science publishing in an ongoing communication and information revolution.

George Gabriel Stokes, secretary and editor of the Transactions 1854-85

George Gabriel Stokes, secretary and editor of the Transactions 1854-85. Image copyright: the Royal Society

The Publish or Perish? Conference being held at the Royal Society from the 19th – 22nd March will address both the history of scientific publishing and its future through two public evening events

An exhibition on the Transactions is currently open at the Royal Society and runs until June 2015. The exhibition is open to all and you can download the brochure here

Dr Julie McDougall-Waters
Research Fellow, University of St. Andrews

Explore records for the Philosophical Translations of the Royal Society on Copac.

St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Chapter Library

Dr Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian, writes about the collections at the Chapter Library, St George’s Chapel.

The College of St George, comprising St George’s Chapel and surrounding buildings, occupies the lower ward of Windsor Castle.  Founded in 1348 by King Edward III as a collegiate religious institution, its purpose was to act as the spiritual counterpart of the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most prestigious order of chivalry in Britain. The library has been an integral part of the life of the College from its foundation, serving the Dean and Canons who make up the Windsor Chapter.

Grail roof boss, St George's Chapel Library

Roof boss in medieval library room

An introduction to the medieval library and a survey of the documentary sources for its study are the subject of a new St George’s Chapel monograph by Dr James Willoughby, published at the end of 2014.   Dr Willoughby describes how the first books were kept chained to desks in the Chapel. On the orders of Edward IV, who donated a number of books to the College, a separate library was built in the 1480s above the Dean’s Cloister to house the growing number of volumes. Despite the loss of seventy of its manuscript books in 1612, donated to Sir Thomas Bodley for his new library in Oxford where they continue to reside, the library’s holdings continued to expand.

Vicars’ Hall in use as Chapter Library

Vicars’ Hall in use as Chapter Library

In 1692 the books were removed to the Vicars’ Hall, where they remained for three centuries as a working library, augmented by later acquisitions until, in 1947, the newly formed Library Committee decided to convert the Chapter Library into a ‘museum–library’,  arranging for the sale of its post-1692 publications. A few eighteenth and nineteenth century volumes escaped the cull and a small number of additions have been made to the rare-book collection since then.  However, the vast majority of the library’s collection of approximately 6,000 rare-books, dates from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forming a splendid sequence from the main English and

Illustration of a scholar at a lectern from Wynkyn de Worde’s The crafte to lyve well and to dye well (1505)

Illustration of a scholar at a lectern from Wynkyn de Worde’s The crafte to lyve well and to dye well (1505)

and European printing presses of the time. The volumes cover a wide range of subjects:  theology, ecclesiastical and political history, classics, geography, topography, navigation, bibliography, mathematics and medicine. The nine incunables in the collection include a fine edition of Caxton’s The mirrour of the world (1481), and a beautifully illustrated copy of The crafte to lyve well and to dye well printed by Wynkyn de Worde (1505).

Image of Typus Cosmographicus Universali

Typus Cosmographicus Universali by Sebastian Munster (left-side)

Amongst the most interesting of the non-theological holdings is the rich collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century topographical and navigational works and atlases including all four parts of Sir Robert Dudley’s Dell’arcano del mare (1606), a fine edition of John Speed’s The theatre of the empire of Great-Britain (1676), Mercator’s Atlas siue Cosmographicae (1606), Jan Blaeu’s Atlas maior (1662) and Moses Pitt’s The English atlas (1680-1683).  One of the earliest published world maps, Typus Cosmographicus Universali by Sebastian Munster (1488-1552), is included (in two parts) in the 1555 edition of Simon Grynaeus’ Nouus orbis regionum which also forms part of this collection. With its lively depictions of cannibals, winged serpents, elephants, and monsters, and its curious topographical interpretation of North America (labelled as the land of Cuba), it makes a fascinating study.

Image of page from volume of Papal scrutiny papers, 1676

Page from volume of Papal scrutiny papers, 1676

An intriguing eighteenth century addition to the Chapter Library was the donation by Canon Walter Harte of a bound volume entitled ‘The Scrutiny at the Conclave held at Rome in the year 1676, when Cardinal Odescalchi was chosen Pope (Innocent XI)’. The volume, which Canon Harte purchased in Italy, contains daily scrutiny papers (printed lists of cardinals with manuscript annotations recording number of votes for each on a daily basis) from the Papal Conclave held in the Vatican from 4 September to 21 September 1676, ending with an engraving of Odescalchi in his new role as Pope. The Apostolic Constitution governing papal elections requires all notes as well as ballot papers to be burnt in order to maintain secrecy. These papers, presumably smuggled out of the Vatican for the antiquarian market in Rome, offer a unique insight into an important moment in the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo of Vicars’ Hall with entrance to Undercroft

Vicars’ Hall with entrance to Undercroft

In 1999, the rare-books moved down into the Vicars’ Hall Undercroft, which had been converted into an archives and library repository with the assistance of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The library collections are open to the public for research without charge (by prior appointment) and the Archives and Chapter Library welcomes group visits, donations from which contribute to the library conservation fund. The introduction of a successful Adopt-a-Book scheme in 1998, together with charitable grants and donations, has enabled the professional restoration of over six hundred rare-books since 1998.  We are delighted that the library’s catalogue is now included in Copac which has assisted in opening up the collection to a wider audience.

You can see the full St George’s Chapel collection here on Copac. Search within the collection to view details of individual items.

For more information about the Archives and Chapter Library, please visit our website:

Published catalogues and guides to the Chapter Library

J. Callard, A Catalogue of Printed Books (Pre-1751) in the Library of St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle Historical Monographs relating to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle no.15 (Windsor, 1976)

J. Willoughby, The Medieval Library of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle: Documentary Sources, Historical Monographs relating to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle no.19 (Windsor, 2014)

All images St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.


Special Collections at York Minster Library and the University of York Library

Sarah Griffin, Special collections and York Minster Librarian, talks about
the Special collections at the Cathedral and the University.

I was appointed to the post of Special collections and York Minster Librarian in 2010 following a partnership agreement between the University of York and the Chapter of York Minster.  The university provides all library staff, and technological support through the cataloguing and circulation modules of the library management system. In return university users get free access to the Minster library collections, we run induction tours for students and we host seminars for groups using the books.

The Minster library is the largest cathedral library in England holding around 120,000 items. As well as a substantial collection of early printed books, including 130 incunabula, the library has a modern reference and lending collection. The bulk of the historic library is housed in a 13th-century building to the north of the Minster.Image of Upper Hall of the Old Palace

The Upper Hall of the Old Palace. Image courtesy of the Chapter of York.

Cathedrals libraries are known for their broad and diverse collections and York is no exception. Subjects include travel, botany, science, medicine and, of course, theology.  We attract students of medieval studies, church architecture especially stained glass, and church history. My favourite part has to be the Yorkshire collection which was donated in 1890.

It came from Edward Hailstone, a solicitor from Bradford, who thought public libraries were ‘spoilators of books’ and would not countenance leaving his collection to them. Luckily that meant they came to the Minster where they now occupy a large proportion of our special collections room. They include everything from playbills, to civil war tracts, to children’s books, to local printing; the list is endless. Choosing a favourite item is hard as I have a new favourite every week.  However here is a constant much loved item, a commemorative handbill produced by Thomas Gent who set up his printing press on the frozen river Ouse in 1740.

Image of Verses on the frozen River Ouse, 1740

Verses on the frozen River Ouse, 1740. Image courtesy of the Chapter of York

Thomas Gent was a York printer from 1724 until his death in 1778 with a great line in blarney. He wrote an autobiography which is still fantastic reading although best taken with a big pinch of salt. What he was very good at was writing histories of Yorkshire towns. His books on York, Ripon and Hull contain information not found elsewhere and appear to have been based on first hand research and observation. The Minster library has almost all of Gent’s publications and would like to complete the collection in the future.

At the Minster I battle against the same things as many rare book librarians, namely looking after a collection in a historic building with all the environmental issues that entails, and achieving objectives with limited resources. In fairness big stone buildings do actually control temperature and humidity fairly well but dust and pest control are on-going problems. We suffer every year from a plague of ladybirds that come into the building through poorly fitting windows and promptly drop dead. It can be very disconcerting for readers to find themselves in the middle of a sea of ladybird corpses!

So that’s my first hat dealt with, I am also responsible for the special collections at the university. In the main these are printed books as archives are housed in and curated by the Borthwick Institute for Archives situated on campus. It is a collection of collections, comprising of around 20,000 items. Highlights are the books of Hugo Dyson, one of the Inklings, a group that included JRR Tolkien and C S Lewis; the Raymond Burton Yorkshire Collection; two Yorkshire parish libraries; two provincial medical society collections and much much more. I have got a definite favourite here though. It’s a scrapbook from 1819 produced by Laura Hannam.

Image of Scrapbook 1819

Scrapbook by Laura Catherine Hannam 1819. Image courtesy of the University of York

It was donated to the university on its opening in 1963 but there is no more information than that. However looking at the pictures Laura has drawn it is possible to work out that she must have lived in East Kent, and probably on a farm. The pictures are quite crude but so charming. It sits with a small collection of printed children’s books illustrated by Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott among others.

The area I probably spend most time on is promotion of the collections within both institutions and also to the wider community in York and further afield. This is done through a combination of exhibitions, talks, tours and the use of social media.  At present I am working on producing a treasures booklet which will showcase the unique and distinctive collections at the Minster, the special collections and the Borthwick.  I am also working with a group of academics from English and History to create an exhibition and events celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Minster library.

I am lucky to work in an institution that places great value on its special collections and with the initiatives of bodies such as RLUK in this area I am looking forward to expanding the reach and scope of the collections I curate.

More information on the Minster collections can be found at

For more information on special collections see

Senate House Library, University of London treasures volume

Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at Senate House Library and author of numerous articles about the Library and its holdings, talks about the Library’s recently published volume of treasures.

(see Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012) View on Copac)

In November 2012 Senate House Library, University of London, produced a treasures volume featuring a brief history of the Library and sixty highlights from its special collections. The publication is a landmark. The treasures volume is by no means the first publication to appear about Senate House Library. Its first catalogue was published in 1876, the year before the Library opened. Numerous catalogues have followed, culminating in the five-volume short-title Catalogue of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature (1970-1995), which has provided a standard for economic completeness (viz. “Not in Goldsmiths’” in booksellers’ catalogues). Articles about specific collections or groups of collections have appeared in various academic journals. But the treasures volume published by Scala is the first large-scale publication with lavish illustrations intended for a general audience.

Senate House Library opened as the University of London Library in 1877. Donations had dribbled in from 1838 onwards. The impetus for a University Library came with the acquisition of the University’s first purpose-built accommodation in Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly, in 1870, with a large ground-floor room to double as an examination hall and library. No sooner had the Chancellor appealed for books to fill its empty shelves than Samuel Loyd, Baron Overstone, purchased and gave the library of the recently deceased mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871). This comprised over 3,500 titles, mainly to do with the various branches of mathematics (including astronomy) and its history: a collection which was praised at the time and which, over 120 years later in 1996, Adrian Rice called ‘one of the finest accumulations of books on the history of mathematics in the country’.

Obvious treasures included the first five printed editions of Euclid, first editions of Newton’s Principia and Opticks, and the first edition of Copernicus’s  De Revolutionibus, this last individualised by De Mogan’s annotations; also noteworthy were runs of popular textbooks, such as Cocker’s Arithmetic and Francis Walkingame’s The Tutor’s Assistant. De Morgan’s notes, often humorous and sometimes shedding light on the history of mathematics, enhanced a significant minority of the books: a feature noted as adding to their value even at the time of De Morgan’s death, and one which has gained significance in recent years with the general boom in the history of reading and provenance research. The collection was catalogued online, with help from the Vice-Chancellor’s Development Fund of the University of London, in 2004-6. The iconic 1482 editio princeps of Euclid’s Elements is by no means a rare book, with 41 copies recorded on the ISTC for the British Isles alone and many more across the world; and De Morgan’s copy of the first edition of Copernicus has received prominence elsewhere, as in David Pearson’s Books as History (2008). For the treasures volume, we therefore regarded these as out of bounds. De Morgan’s own extensive writings included an article ‘On the Earliest Printed Almanacs’ in The Companion to the Almanac for 1845 and a separate monograph The Book of Almanacs (1851), and we represented this area of his interest with the first of several early almanacs from his library, the Lunarium ab Anno 1491 ad Annum 1550 by Bernardus de Granollachs (ISTC ig00340700). An added attraction to featuring this work is that De Morgan’s is the only complete copy known.  We featured De Morgan’s copy of his Formal Logic(1847): interleaved and bound in two volumes, it is full of scribbled notes, newspaper articles and personal letters, with some unpublished diagrams which show his mind at work.

One of Augustus De Morgan’s insertions in his Formal Logic (1847)

One of Augustus De Morgan’s insertions in his Formal Logic (1847)

Arithmetic was a major focus of his collecting and there would have been numerous early printed books from which to choose. Ultimately we selected a late edition of John Bonnycastle’s The Scholar’s Guide to Arithmetic, edited by retired schoolmaster Edwin Colman Tyson (1828). This is a prime example of how small, common textbooks are prone to disappear: the Senate House Library copy is one of only two on Copac. De Morgan’s copy includes his note from 1857: “This book was sent to me by the publisher, meaning to call my attention to it as a class book. It convinced me that a work on demonstrative arithmetic was wanting – and was the book which suggested the existence of the deficiency to supply which I wrote my own arithmetic in 1830” – what a devastating verdict by an experienced and dismissive reviewer!

Classical historian and University of London Vice-Chancellor George Grote died on 18 June 1871, just four months after De Morgan. Grote bequeathed his books to the University. Unlike De Morgan, Grote had not been a conscious collector. But he had been a voracious reader, with money from 1830 onwards to satisfy his wide-ranging literary interests, and his library contained about five thousand titles. Director’s Choice, by Christopher Pressler – our Director’s selection of thirty favourite items from the collections –had come out a few months earlier and snaffled Grote’s collection of French Revolutionary pamphlets, comprising some items which were not only very rare (again, because they were ephemeral) but which epitomised an area of Grote’s interest: according to his 1962 biographer, Martin Lowther Clarke, he was thought to have read everything there was to read about the French Revolution. We made do with the French translation (rare in Britian; the only other copy on Copac is at the British Library) of Grote’s History of Greece and with the second-oldest item in his collection, Gregor Reisch’s Margarita Philosophica (1504), in a copy including some hand-colouring and in a contemporary blind-tooled calf binding.

G. Reisch, Margarita Philosophica (1504)

G. Reisch, Margarita Philosophica (1504)

It was the gift of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature in 1903 – some 30,000 items – which doubled library holdings and transformed the University Library into a major academic institution. Director’s Choice had already claimed the Collection’s most outstanding item in terms of provenance, a copy of Das Kapital (1872) inscribed by Marx to Peter Imandt (1823-1897), a fellow political émigré and German teacher in Dundee who worked with Marx and Engels for many years after having arrived in London, via Switzerland, in 1852. In the treasures volume we highlighted the founding item of the Goldsmiths’ Library, Dionyius Lardner’s Railway Economy (1850), annotated by the founder of the library, Herbert Somerton Foxwell: “I bought this volume from a bookstall in Great Portland Street at Jevons’ suggestion, one afternoon as I was going to Hampstead with him, for 6d.!  He urged me to buy it, partly on account of the low price, partly because it was a book of great intrinsic value, from which had suggested to him the mathematical treatment of economic theory. [cf. ch xiii] This purchase was the first step in the formation of my economic collection.” In addition to buying Foxwell’s collection and presenting it to the University of London, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths financed the extension of the collection, such that it is now more than twice the size of the original gift. Our choice of other items from the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature honoured collection building, with the first printed work on economics (Franciscus de Platea, Opus Restitutionum Usurarum, Excommunicationum, 1472; ISTC ip00751000), and a professional diary of the energetic railway engineer John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856).

On the whole the treasures volume follows and acknowledges the receipt of other major special collections to the University, from the Durning-Lawrence Library based around Sir Francis Bacon and the Quick Memorial Library of works on education, both given in 1929, to the M.S. Anderson Collection of Writings on Russia Printed between 1525 and 1917 and editions of Walter de la Mare’s work (given in 2008 and 2009 respectively). But it is important to acknowledge that not all the noteworthy works in a library are held in named special collections, and the treasures volume does this, for example with single purchases or gifts. The most valuable item featured falls into both these categories. It is an illuminated manuscript produced around 1385 chronicling the exploits of Edward, the Black Prince, during the Hundred Years War. Purchased by the University to present to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1921, it was subsequently placed by him on permanent loan to the University Library. Occasionally the means of acquisition is unknown, as for the short-running journal of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union Aglaia (recorded on Copac only for Senate House Library and the National Art Library).

Editing a treasures volume is not conducive to cherishing favourite items, as one’s energies are focused on searching for errors and inconsistencies in drafts. Yet certain items do stand out for particular features. For sheer beauty, my preferred item is a small (110 x 72 mm), apparently unique book of hours printed on vellum in Paris for Germain Hardouyn in about 1516: the book is rubricated and illuminated, with a half-page coloured illustration for each of the hours.

Heures a l’usaige de Rome tout au Long sans riens requerir (ca 1516)

Heures a l’usaige de Rome tout au Long sans riens requerir (ca 1516)

The book I am most curious to read is The Greatest Plague in Life or The Adventures of a Lady in Search of a Good Servant, by the brothers Henry and Augustus Mayhew (1847) – a book reprinted at least three times in the Victorian era, as copies on Copac testify, but which has since sunk into obscurity.The first edition of the book is by no means rare, with copies from twelve libraries on Copac, but Senate House Library is the only library to have recorded ownership of the six original parts, complete with advertisements for pens and ink, iron fenders, lingerie, wigs, and hair dye.

Henry and Augustus Mayhew, The Greatest Plague in Life, ot 3 (1847).

Henry and Augustus Mayhew, The Greatest Plague in Life, ot 3 (1847).

For us there is also a local interest, as the narrator is based in Guildford Street, Russell Square, whence she complains that she has been driven “through a pack of ungrateful, good-for-nothing things called servants, who really do not know when they are well off”. This book promises to rate highly for amusement value, although for the top position in that category it vies with Thomas Carlyle’s acerbic marginalia on the first edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh (for example, “don’t!” when the protagonist says it is “too easy to go mad”).


“What and where is the University of London?” is a query which vexed University officials before the central University moved from South Kensington to its current home in Bloomsbury in the 1930s.  “What and where is Senate House Library, University of London” albeit not asked so explicitly, has often been implicit. A document from 1946 claimed that the University of London Library was not as well known as it deserved to be, even within the University of London; and half a century later we still encounter researchers who are surprised by the richness of the Library’s holdings. We hope that the treasures volume will stop such a question from being asked at all.

All images copyright Senate House Library, University of London, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

The Royal College of Surgeons: Designated status recognises the remarkable collections

Thalia Knight, Director of Library and Surgical Information Services at The Royal College of Surgeons of England and Beth Astridge, Library, Museum and Archives Projects Manager highlight some of the remarkable library, archive and museum collections at The Royal College of Surgeons of England, which have recently been awarded Designated status.

Last month The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) was delighted to announce that our combined library, archives and museum collections had been awarded Designated status by Arts Council England. The Designation award based on their quality and significance, distinguishes the library, archive and Hunterian museum at the RCS as unique collections of national and international importance.

The Designation application process is, quite rightly, a rigorous and searching exercise to undertake – as anyone who has attempted it would confirm!  We learned a great deal more than we expected about the collections and their inter-relationships in the course of our journey. There is so much we could talk about – all we do here is give some highlights and hope our readers will be moved to visit the RCS website, perhaps come in person to see us and think about referring potential researchers to our collections.

With 4.2 million surgical operations carried out every year in England alone, there are few whose lives have not been touched in some way by surgery. There were more than 70,000 visitors to the Hunterian Museum in 2012, testifying to the enduring interest of the public in understanding the evolution of surgery right up to the present day.

In terms of holdings statistics, the museum collections contain c. 54,000 items including specimens, instruments and art works. The archive collections consist of 2,274 boxes of material plus 542 unboxed items across 445 linear metres of shelving. The library holds approximately 100,000 volumes of books, pamphlets, and periodicals across 4.7 linear kilometres of shelving. Since 2002 the library and archives have been fortunate to receive support from The Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources in Medical History grants scheme to enable cataloguing and conservation of our collections. Most of the 19th Century monographs have been catalogued online and we are currently working on the pre-1800 monographs. Our collection of 17th and 18th century journals including rare European and British periodicals are not yet catalogued online. Approximately 90% of the deposited archives have been catalogued online at collection level.

Where is the Royal College of Surgeons of England and how did it start?

The pleasant, green square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields near Holborn in central London has been home to the College since 1796. Famous as a legal quarter, the various Inns of Court are within walking distance, as is the Sir John Soane Museum across the Fields.

The origins of the College lie in two City livery companies, the Company of Barbers and Guild of Surgeons, which combined in 1540 establishing the Company of Barber-Surgeons by Royal Charter. The Barber-Surgeons apprenticed and examined surgical trainees within the city of London. In 1745, the two professions separated again and the Company of Surgeons was formed. The Company built a new hall near Newgate Gaol with an anatomy theatre to teach students and dissect the bodies of executed criminals.

Sketch of head from "Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection.”, by William Clift

Sketch of head from "Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection.”, by William Clift. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

In the College‘s deposited archive collections there are many oddities but also some that provide great insights into the life of the College. William Clift, curator of the museum 1799-1842, left a varied collection of archives (ref. MS0007). Amongst his papers is a “Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection.” This manuscript volume by Clift lists bodies received by the college and describes the cases of executions and dissections from 1800-1820 (Ref. MS0007/1/6/1/1). He also made sketches of some of the heads to accompany his notes.

In 1799 the government purchased the collection of the eminent surgeon and anatomist John Hunter FRS (1728-1793) giving custody to the Company on condition it was open to medical professionals and students. In 1800 the Company received its first Royal Charter, becoming the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The Lincoln’s Inn property purchased in 1796 was prepared and the Hunterian Museum opened there in 1813.  In May this year we therefore celebrate the bicentenary of the opening of the Hunterian Museum.

When was the Library founded?

The first act of the College, beginning its new life in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was to accept from the Government the charge of John Hunter’s Museum.  It was decided to form a library and books were bought for the use of the museum curators; from 1807 serious collecting on a large scale began.  There were many generous gifts of valuable books and manuscripts. The Library was publicly opened in 1828.  Library development was helped by early donations and purchases from important surgeons including the pathologist Matthew Baillie, surgeon and past Master of the College Sir Charles Blicke, and the surgeon Sir Anthony Carlisle.

What is in the library and archive collections?

As a result these significant donations, the library collections contain many rare editions, imprints and variants. There are 57 incunabula containing some rare items from the early printing presses of France, Germany and the Low Countries and some beautiful Italian books including Johannes de Ketham’s “Anatomy”, with its handsome woodcut illustrations printed at Venice in 1495. Of the 637 English books printed before 1701, 38 are unrecorded or variant editions, for example an unrecorded French translation of Aristotle’s Secreta Secretorum, possibly printed at Lyon in 1490. We hold a number of rare first editions including Celsus (1478), Galen’s Therpeuticorum libri xiv, Venetiis 1500, and Hippocrates Opera Omnia (Graece) Venetiis, 1526. We also have a scarce first edition of Aselli’s De lactibus, 1627 which includes four coloured woodcuts, known as the earliest anatomical coloured illustrations.  The collection of anatomical books is particularly significant and includes one of the finest known copies of Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, a second edition printed at Basel in 1555 and bound in contemporary pigskin stamped with allegorical designs.

Items from the pre 1800 collections demonstrate developments in early anatomical and surgical studies including surgical procedures such as bloodletting, amputation and trepanation.

Claude-Nicolas Le Cat (1700-1768). Traité des sens. Rouen, 1740.

Claude-Nicolas Le Cat (1700-1768). Traité des sens. Rouen, 1740. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

This plate (see above) shows a section of the head made into a detailed plate. The RCS Library copy of this work has a manuscript note in the preliminary leaves that indicates that it was a ‘Gift of the author, 1744’.

Anatomical progress before the eighteenth century is illustrated comprehensively by our collections of significant anatomical works by the pre-eminent authors of the period such as Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), Thomas Willis (1621-1675) and Govard Bidloo (1649-1713), who were actively challenging standard knowledge laid down by Galen.

During the eighteenth century John Hunter and his contemporaries were extending anatomical knowledge and advancing surgical practice. In addition to our collection of Hunter’s printed and manuscript works, we also have an especially comprehensive collection of the works of Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697-1770), and excellent coverage of William Cheselden’s work and research such as his work on lithotomy (cutting for the stone) including examples of his lithotomy knives and his signed 1723 treatise on the procedure.

A major medical advance of this period was the discovery of vaccination. Edward Jenner was a pupil of Hunter, who encouraged him to test his theories using Hunter’s scientific experimental approach. Jenner was inspired to test the protective properties of cowpox against smallpox. In the archives we hold Hunter’s letters to Jenner, other Jenner correspondence, a manuscript draft of the original cowpox vaccination publication, and a selection of his published works including a first edition of his cowpox treatise in 1798.

Claude Bernard and Charles Huette. A text book of operative surgery and surgical anatomy. Translated from the French and edited by Arthur Trehern Norton. London,1878.

Claude Bernard and Charles Huette. A text book of operative surgery and surgical anatomy. Translated from the French and edited by Arthur Trehern Norton. London,1878. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Major surgical advances were to revolutionise surgical practice in the 19th century. The most fundamental of these discoveries were pain relief and antisepsis, both of which are clearly illustrated by our wide-ranging collections. The collections are outstanding in their coverage of Lord Lister’s research and work, containing Lister’s manuscript research papers, the majority of his published works (some of which are annotated and given to the library by Lister himself), a number of carbolic spray devices, his microscope, samples of catgut ligatures that he developed, and surgical instruments he owned and used.

The collection of Sir Astley Paston Cooper (1768-1841) include fascinating notes and drawings of his experiments and research, specimens of anatomy and pathology collected or prepared by him, as well as case notes of his treatment of patients.

We hold a rare first edition of one of the greatest anatomical textbooks, Henry Gray’s Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical (Parker, 1858), in its original binding, as well as the first proofs of the engravings by Butterworth and Heath, for which Henry Vandyke Carter did the beautiful illustrations. Gray’s Anatomy is now the longest running anatomical textbook in the world.

Henry Vandyke Carter (1831-1897). India Proofs for Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical  by Henry Gray (1858).

Henry Vandyke Carter (1831-1897). India Proofs for Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical by Henry Gray (1858). Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of London.


Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter worked together at St George’s Hospital. They began to collaborate to create a practical and affordable textbook to aid anatomy students and trainee surgeons. As research for the textbook, Gray and Carter carried out many dissections together. Gray was responsible for describing the dissections for the text in the publication, and Carter was responsible for illustrating the textbook.

Throughout the 19th century College employed museum conservators who were experts in their respective fields. Examples include the palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892), the microscopist John Thomas Quekett (1815-1861), and the zoologist William Henry Flower (1831-1899). The work and research of these important scholars is reflected in the collections through the specimens they prepared, books they wrote, collections they catalogued, and archive papers of the research they carried out.

Conflict had a profound influence on developments in plastic surgery, demonstrated by our Harold Gillies (1882-1960) collection. Gillies developed new procedures to reconstruct the faces of soldiers injured during the First World War, including vastly improving the success of skin grafting procedures. The Gillies material includes extensive patient files with photographs detailing treatment and procedures, a wax teaching model and casts of life masks illustrating facial reconstructive surgical procedures, and surgical instruments owned or used by Gillies. Additionally we hold the Henry Tonks (1862-1937) collection of beautiful pastel portraits of soldiers treated by Gillies which are highly regarded and have been exhibited worldwide.

The College library and archive collections were developed to support the world-leading research into natural history and comparative anatomy that were being carried out in the museum. This can come as a surprise to those who assume that our collections are purely medical or surgical. Zoology, evolutionary theory and palaeontology are supported by works by Charles Darwin, Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) and William Buckland (1784-1856). Research into comparative anatomy is supported by works by Edward Tyson (1650-1708), Georges Baron Cuvier (1769-1832) and Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895).

George Shaw and Frederick Polydor Nodder. Vivarium Naturae ... The Naturalist's Miscellany: or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects; drawn and described immediately from nature. London, 1789-c.1813.

George Shaw and Frederick Polydor Nodder. Vivarium Naturae ... The Naturalist's Miscellany: or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects; drawn and described immediately from nature. London, 1789-c.1813. Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

George Shaw and Frederick Polydor Nodder. Vivarium Naturae … The Naturalist’s Miscellany: or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects; drawn and described immediately from nature. London, 1789-c.1813.

The Naturalist’s Miscellany is a collaboration between author and draughtsman-engraver devoted to zoological subjects. Complete sets are rare, since the work was published in 287 monthly parts over some 24 years. In 1814 a sequel, The Zoological Miscellany, was begun by William Elford Leach, with Nodder continuing to do the plates. This was completed in 1817, and comprises three volumes. Of this work only 50 copies were printed, and it is one of the rarest known to the ornithologist. Before our rediscovery of a set in the Library there were only two copies believed to exist in England, one in the British Library, the other in a private collection.

Finally, there is also important material that provides insight in unexpected subject areas. John Hunter and his wife, the poet Anne Home Hunter, were friends with many of London’s artists and musicians and many important paintings arrived with his museum. In the 19th and 20th centuries the College continued to collect paintings and drawings of new species or unusual medical collections as well as portraits and sculptures commemorating distinguished members, fellows and benefactors of the College.

Our archive collections contain poetry and a libretto for Haydn’s “Creation”, by Anne Home Hunter; papers and correspondence of the poet and dramatist Joanna Baillie including letters exchanged with literary acquaintances such as Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, and Maria Edgeworth; a manuscript fragment of Mozart’s Rondo in A Major; two unpublished works by Rudyard Kipling and correspondence with Sir John and Lady Edith Bland-Sutton and his uncle Edward Burne-Jones with accompanying illustrations.  The drawing below is one of our favourites and is an apt note to end on!

Edward Burne-Jones (in letter to Kipling).

Edward Burne-Jones (in letter to Kipling). Image copyright the Royal College of Surgeons of England

The drawing was probably sent in 1897 when Kipling’s son, John, was born.  In the letter Burne-Jones explains that he is sending “a design intended to illustrate a poem I hear you are writing, on the subject of your cook dancing a jig of joy at the birth of your heir”.  [MS0019]


Images reproduced by kind permission of the President and Council of The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

See the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s holdings on Copac.