Amgueddfa Blog: Library

If you visit the Snakes exhibition at National Museum Cardiff (open till 15 September), you will see a 16th century book from the Library collections.

 

This unusual book is known as Hortus Sanitatis (although it is also written as Ortus Sanitatis) which roughly translates to ‘The Garden of Health’ in Latin. It is an early example of a herbal, a book containing descriptions of plants, along with how to prepare and use them as medicinal remedies.

 

It started life in 1485 as a German ‘Herbarius’, also called the Gart der Gesundheit, before an extended version, translated into Latin, was published in 1491. Unlike the German version, the new Latin version didn't just focus on plants, but also included remedies involving animals, birds, fish and minerals.

 

Over the next 50 years the book was published in many more editions and languages. As well as new Latin and German editions, it was also translated into Dutch and English (although often in shortened versions). The English edition is called the Noble lyfe & natures of man, of bestes, serpentys, fowles & fisshes, and was produced around 1527. All these editions indicate just how popular this book was in the 15th and 16th centuries. Perhaps it saw so many reprints because unlike most herbals of the period, it covered more than just plants. But by the 1530s it was being replaced by the herbals of the 'German Fathers of Botany', Bock, Brunfels, and Fuchs.

 

Our copy of Hortus Sanitatis is one of the Latin editions published in Strasburg in 1517 by Reinhard Beck. The full title is Ortus sanitatis de herbis et plantis. De animalibus et reptilibus. De avibus et volatilibus. De piscibus et natatilibus. De lapidibus et in terre venis nascentibus. Urinis et earum speciebus.

 

It has no known author, as was common with herbals of this period, and is heavily illustrated. The illustrations, along with the purchase of the paper for printing, would have been the most expensive part of producing the book, and so were re-used from other works. Unusually for the period, many of the woodcuts are coloured.

 

Our copy of this book is from the Willoughby Gardner Library, but also has a bookplate identifying it as part of the former collection of Charles Butler. Charles Butler, Esq. [1821-1910] was an English politician and collector. He held a very extensive and valuable library at Warren Wood, Hatfield, which was sold off at Sotheby’s in 1911.

 

It’s most likely that Willoughby Gardner purchased the book from that sale, either directly or indirectly from a rare books seller. He regularly purchased books from famous libraries, and so would have been well aware of such a significant auction.

 

The title page of the book also gives us a clue to a much earlier owner. Written in ink are the words ‘Monasterii Montis S. Georgii 1659’, indicating that it might have formerly been in the possession of a monastery in Austria.

 

The monastery of St. Georgenberg was founded on the site of a hermitage, near Stans, and held an extensive library. In the 17th century the abbot decided to reorganise it and give the books new marks of ownership, written on the first and last folios, and usually dated (most often in 1652, 1659, and 1661).

 

In 1850 the monastery sold a number of books from their library in order to raise money, and many of them have since ended up in public collections in the UK. It is quite likely that Charles Butler acquired Hortus Sanitatis from that sale.

 

 

Further reading;

Anderson, Frank J. An illustrated history of the herbals. New York, Columbia University Press, 1977

Arber, Agnes. Herbals: their origin and evolution, 3rd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986

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A volvelle is a rotating paper ‘wheel chart’, often found in early astronomy or mathematical books.

They were constructed from a number of circles, layered over each other, and fastened together in the centre with string so that they could spin. Volvelles were typically used to make calculations or predictions.

The design was based on astrolabes, very thin engraved metal discs that when rotated in various configurations made calculations, and were often employed as navigational devices. As astrolabes were quite costly to make, the paper versions were introduced as a cheaper alternative.

We believe that volvelles came to Europe from the Arabic world during the 11th and 12th centuries in medicinal and astronomical works. In the 16th century, books describing how to construct and use your own volvelle often came with printed sheets, so that the buyer could cut up and assemble their own.

We have a number of these types of books in our Vaynor Collection of astronomical books donated to the Museum in 1939 by John Herbert James of Vaynor Cottage, near Merthyr Tydfil. Some of these books still have their volvelles intact and working!

One example is a mid-16th century copy of The Sphere by Johannes de Sacrobosco. Johannes de Sacrobosco wrote Tractatus de Sphaera or De Sphaera Mundi, meaning On the Sphere of the World, in the thirteenth century when he was teaching at the University of Paris.

It remained a standard text for students of mathematics and astronomy for centuries, which is why we have this version from 1577, revised and expanded.

In 1548 Gemma Frisius produced his version of Peter Apian’s Cosmographia, a book which had originally been published in 1524, and was said to be one of the most popular books on cosmography ever published. Apian, more commonly known as Petrus Apianus, was a mathematician, designer of sundials, and publisher of manuals for astronomical instruments from his print shop in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. He was well known for his volvelles designs which is why they are sometimes also known as "Apian wheels", and this edition of Cosmographia features a number of them, although they are in a very fragile state.

However, in a few of our Vaynor books, the owner never got around to assembling the volvelles, and instead the printed sheets were bound in at the back of the book like regular pages.

This book Quadrans Apiani astronomicus... from 1532 is also by Peter Apian, and explains the use of quadrants, scientific instruments for measuring angles or time, derived from astrolabes, and used very much by sailors for navigation.

Our copy contains printed sheets for the construction of a volvelle, all the separate sections can be cut out and then assembled. The largest piece would serve as the base, and then all the corresponding circles would all be stacked up on top of each other in order, until the smallest was on the top. Then the whole thing would be secured through the middle with string.

We’ve reproduced a set from the Quadrans book, so have a go at constructing your own volvelle by downloading and printing this worksheet. You can use a split pin to secure the circles instead of string!

Many of the books in the Library collections at the National Museum Wales have attractive decorative techniques applied to the covers or text blocks. Decoration on text blocks, the combined pages of the book inside the covers, is particularly lovely because it tends to be hidden when they are on the shelves.

The most popular examples of decorating text blocks include marbling and gilding. But one of the most interesting techniques is the one known as disappearing fore-edge painting, which was often hidden underneath the other types of decoration.

Fore-edge painting was a technique that reached the height of its popularity from the mid-17th century onwards. It was usually applied to the longest section of the text block, the one opposite the spine, the fore-edge.

Two books in our special collections feature examples of mid-19th century disappearing fore-edge paintings. They are the two volumes of the second edition of the Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke by George Wingrove Cooke, and were published in 1836.

When the book is closed you cannot see the image, only the gilt edges of the text block, but when the leaves are fanned, the hidden picture is revealed.

To achieve this effect, the artist would need to fan the pages, and then secure them in a vice, this means they are applying the paint not to the edge of the page, but to just shy of the edge. Once completed, it is released from the vice and the gilding would be applied to the edges.

Landscape scenes were the most popular for this technique, and the ones on our books show Conway Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

Very often the motivation for a fore-edge painting was a demonstration of artistic skill, so it didn’t always follow that the images were related to the text contained within the book. These two volumes of Memoirs, do not have an obvious connection to the scenes painted. Lord Bolingbroke (Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke 1678–1751) was an English politician during the reign of Queen Anne, and later George I, and is probably best known as a supporter of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, but he does not appear to have any direct association with either Conwy or Caernarfon.

The volumes were acquired for the Library in 2008 from a rare book dealer, but we don’t know enough about their history to be able to tell when the fore-edge paintings were added. The first volume contains an inscription that states that the book was a gift to a T. M. Townley from his friend Samuel Thomas Abbot on his leaving Eton in 1843. Unfortunately we don’t know anything about either the recipient or the sender, so we can’t tell if one of them was ultimately responsible for painting the books.

In recognition of this Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will be running a series of monthly blogs, each one covering a different chemical element and its significance to Wales. Look out for these throughout the year on our website.

To start off our series of blogs, for January we have silver.

Silver (chemical symbol – Ag), atomic number 47, is one of the original seven metals of alchemy and was represented by the symbol of a crescent moon. Silver is a precious metal, but it has never been as valuable as gold.

In Wales, silver has played an important role in the history of Wales, but this is often forgotten. In the northernmost part of Ceredigion (the old county of Cardiganshire) near to the village of Goginan lie a number of disused mines which were some of the richest silver producers in the history of the British Isles. The Romans almost certainly had a part to play in the discovery of the metal-rich mineral veins, but it was Queen Elizabeth I who oversaw their development as silver mines.

It is reported that the first rich discovery of silver was made at Cwmsymlog (sometimes written as Cum sum luck in historical records) mine in 1583 by Thomas Smythe, Chief Customs Officer for the Port of London. It is much more likely that it was discovered by Ulrich Frosse, a German mining engineer experienced in silver mining who visited the mine at about the same time and advised Smythe. During the reign of Elizabeth I it is estimated that 4 tons of silver was produced from the Cardiganshire mines.

King James I and King Charles I both made handsome profits from the mines (producing 7 and 100 tons of silver respectively), so much so that in 1638 Charles I decided to establish a mint nearby at Aberystwyth Castle. Its success ultimately led to its destruction by Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War in 1646.

Amgueddfa Cymru holds examples of the many silver coins minted at Aberystwyth. Their characteristic feature is the three feathers on both sides of the coin. The addition of a small open book at the top signifies that the silver was produced by Thomas Bushell from the Cardiganshire mines on behalf of the Company of Mines Royal.

Maps and mine plans produced to market the silver mines to investors are some of the earliest to have been made in Britain. The Library at AC-NMW holds several versions of William Waller’s maps produced for the Company of Mine Adventurers in 1693 and 1704 as well as Sir John Pettus’ Fodinae Regales published in 1670.

One of the mines, Bwlch-yr-eskir-hir [Esgair Hir], was much hyped as the Welsh Potosi and from the silver was produced a silver ewer inscribed ‘The Mines of Bwlch-yr-Eskir-hir’, c.1692. The mine was, however, a failure. The quantity of silver produced never lived up to expectations, but this was more to do with the geology than mining methods. It is perhaps better known as the site involved in a legal case against the Crown’s control over precious metals. The case, brought by the landowner Sir Carbery Pryse in 1693, ended the tyranny of the Mines Royal.

Productive silver mining continued in north Cardiganshire, firstly, under the Company of Mine Adventurers and then through the Industrial Revolution by a number of private companies. Total silver production within this part of Wales exceeded 150 tons of silver metal.

Remarkably, it took until the 1980s for geologists to identify the mineral responsible for the high concentrations of silver in the small area of Wales. It is tetrahedrite – a copper, zinc, iron, antimony sulphide mineral - within which silver can replace some of the copper, zinc and iron. At Esgair Hir mine tetrahedrite has been recorded as containing up to 18 wt. % silver. Important ore specimens used during the identification of this mineral are preserved in our geological collections at the Museum.

Naturally occurring silver metal – known as native silver – does not occur in visible concentrations in any of the Welsh mines, but the Museum holds some of the world’s finest examples in its mineral collection. The specimens, from the Kongsberg mine in Norway, are exceptional in their quality and were acquired during the 1980s as part of the R. J. King collection.

The Museums Association Conference of 1948 was held at National Museum Cardiff over five days, running from July 12th to the 16th. All conference meetings were held in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, while an area within the Zoology Department was used as Association Office, Writing Room and Smoke Room.

We know the majority of host duties would have been carried out by Frederick J. North, who was Keeper of Geology and Archibald H. Lee, Museum Secretary, because they are listed on the programme as Honorary Local Secretaries. It is most likely we have them to thank for the ephemera held in the Library, including copies of the programme, associate and staff badges, reception invites, day trip tickets and the official group photograph, taken on the steps of the Museum.

The first day of the conference began with registration, followed by a Council meeting and visit to Cardiff Castle and a reception at the South Wales Institute of Engineers in the evening. The programme states this event as requiring Morning dress code which, during this time period would be a three piece suit for the men, and smart day dresses for the women, or general smart clothing suitable for formal social events.

The second day began with official welcomes by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Alderman R. G. Robinson, and the President of the National Museum Wales, Sir Leonard Twiston-Davies. This was followed by a number of papers read by delegates [all fully listed in the programme], gathering for the official conference photograph, and a Civic Reception at City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor [with refreshments, music and dancing].

1948 was the year that St Fagans National Museum of History was first opened to the public as the St Fagans Folk Museum and to mark this, a visit was arranged for the afternoon of day three. St Fagans Castle, gardens, and grounds had been given to the National Museum Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946 and over the next two years extensive work had been carried out to make it suitable to open to the public. According to the 1950 St Fagans guide book, in the Castle, new central heating, electric lighting, and fire appliances had to be installed along with a tickets office, refreshment room and public amenities. By 1948 our delegates would have had access to the Castle and its newly refurbished historic interiors such as the kitchen with two 16th century fireplaces, the Hall furnished in 17th century style, 17th and 18th century bedrooms and the early 19th century Library. They would also have enjoyed walking the gardens which included a mulberry grove, herb and rose gardens, vinery, fishponds, and flower-house interspersed with bronze sculptures by Sir William Goscombe John. Onsite also were a traditional wood-turner and a basket-maker, creating and selling their wares. The handbook also describes a delightful sounding small tea room with curtains made at the Holywell Textile Mills and watercolour paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn. However, according to a Western Mail clipping, this didn’t open to the public until some weeks later on August 24th. Presumably a room within the Castle itself was used for the delegates’ buffet tea to which they were treated after being greeted by the Curator of St Fagans, Dr Iorwerth Peate.

Interestingly the programme provides times of the train service that ran from Cardiff Central Station to St Fagans. Sadly, the station at St Fagans is no longer there, the service being withdrawn in 1962, although a signal box and level crossing on the line remain.

The Annual General Meeting, Council Meeting and Federation of Officers Meeting  were all held on the next day along with more papers, including one by Mr Duncan Guthrie [of the Arts Council], on the upcoming “Festival of Britain, 1951”. There was also an evening reception in the Museum hosted by the President, and the then Director [Sir Cyril Fox], with refreshments and music by the City of Cardiff High School for Girls Orchestra. The programme states evening dress if possible for this event so it’s a shame we don’t hold any photographs of what would have been a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns.

The final day consisted of further papers in the morning followed by escape and fresh air with visits to the Newport Corporation Museum and the Legionary Museum and Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon during the afternoon.

The September 1948 issue of Museums Journal contains a full report on the conference, with detailed examination of all papers presented and the discussions they generated. It also lists the delegates including those from overseas. The report concludes with thanks to the National Museum Cardiff for the welcome and hospitality accorded to the 240 delegates, with special mention to North and Lee [who would certainly have earned their salaries over those five days!].