Amgueddfa Blog: Books

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

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.

The Museum holds a very significant library collection of Molluscan books, known collectively as the Tomlin Library. They were donated to the Museum in 1955 by John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954), a founder member of the Malacological Society of London, along with his extensive shell collection and archives.

 

To celebrate the Year of the Sea, we are focusing on some of the books in the Tomlin Library, and highlighting some of its treasures.

 

First up is Historiae sive synopsis methodica conchyliorum by Dr Martin Lister (1639-1712). Dr Lister was a physician to Queen Anne, who also had an interest in natural history and communicated with other leading naturalists of the time such as Edward Llwyd, John Ray, and Robert Hooke. He is generally thought to be the founder of conchology in England.

 

He had created a small version of this book for circulation to friends in 1685, but almost immediately began work on an expanded version which was produced from 1685 to 1692. This copy had 490 pages, with 1062 engraved copper plates, showing 2000 figures of molluscs.

 

The illustrations were the work of two of his daughters Susanna (1670-1738) and Anna (1671–1704). Their father had encouraged their drawing abilities, and they would have used the shells in his collection, or those sent by friends such as Sir Hans Sloane, from which to make their drawings. They were also responsible for etching or engraving the plates on copper and it is generally assumed that the printing was done by the family at home, rather than taken to a professional printing firm.

 

The publication of the first edition of Historiae Conchyliorum was a lengthy and laborious undertaking, it is an impressive feat for anyone to be involved in, but even more so for Susanna and Anna as it is thought that they were between the ages of 13 and 15 when production began. It was initially published in four books, or parts, and then a second, complete, edition was produced almost immediately and became available in 1697.

 

In 1712 Lister bequeathed the original copper plates to the Ashmolean Museum, and in 1770, the curator of the Museum, William Huddesford, published a third edition of the book. He reprinted the illustrations from the original plates, included additional notes from Lister’s manuscript, and dedicated it to the famous shell collector, the Duchess of Portland.

 

A final edition was produced in 1823, which included an index by Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855), the porcelain manufacturer whose shell collection is now housed in the Museum zoology department. This edition includes the notes from the Huddesford version and identifications of the species and remarks by the compiler. It is technically the fourth edition but is known generally as the third.

 

The Tomlin Library contains a copy of the first edition from 1685-1692, a copy of the 1770 Huddesford edition and two copies of the 1823 Dillwyn edition. For the duration of Women's History Month the 1685-1692 version will be on display in the Main Hall of National Museum Cardiff, along with a variety of shells from the zoology department.

This year the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society is celebrating its 150th anniversary. You can read about the history of the Society, and its close links with the National Museum here and here.

 

Right from the outset the Society amassed its own Library focusing on natural history, geology, the physical sciences, and archaeology.

 

Many of the publications in the Library were received as exchanges with societies and institutions around the world. They would send out copies of their Transactions, and then receive copies of those organisations’ publications in return. Some of the institutions and societies they were exchanging with included; the Edinburgh Botanical Society; the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences; the South West Africa Scientific Society; the Polish Academy of Science; the Royal Society of Tasmania; the Sociedad Geographia de Lima; and the Kagoshima University in Japan.

 

A number of the publications in the Library were later bound by William Lewis, a bookseller and stationer based in Duke Street in Cardiff. They all have beautiful marbled covers, endpapers, and a matching marbling pattern on the edges of the text block. Each one also has a bookplate with an embossed image of the Society logo, they are incredibly beautiful examples of bookbinding.

 

Not all the items in the Library were received on exchange, a great many were also the result of donations, especially by members. A lovely example is a copy of a second edition of An illustrated manual of British birds by Howard Saunders from 1899. Many of the pages contain annotations relating to whether the previous owner had encountered that particular species in the local area, such as spotting the nest of a pair of mistle-thrushes in Penylan in 1900. Unfortunately the signature of ownership is somewhat illegible, so it’s not possible to make out their name, all that we can tell is that they lived in Richmond Road in 1900.

 

There is also a copy of Claudia and Pudens, a book by John Williams published in 1848. The book was presented to the Society by C. H. James Esq. of Merthyr, and in it is attached a letter to T. H. Thomas (a prominent member of the Society) dated 1892. The letter discusses Roman remains in Cardiff, and advises Thomas not to get drawn in to the ‘Claudia myth’, a popular theory suggesting a Claudia mentioned in the New Testament was a British princess. The author of the letter is quite scathing about the claims, calling them “a ridiculous fabrication”.

 

In 1996 a copy of Castell Coch by Robert Drane, a founding member of the Society was donated to the Library. It was published in 1857, and is now quite rare, as according to John Ward (former curator at the Cardiff Museum, and the National Museum), Drane subsequently destroyed as many copies of this book as possible! The copy donated to the Society contains annotations throughout, correcting or commenting on the contents, and a listing of all the people the author presented with copies.

 

In 1925 the Society decided to place its Library in the Museum Library, with the following stipulations;

•              To the ownership of the Society’s Library remaining with the Society

•              To all accessions to the Society’s Library being entered in the Society’s register

•              To all accessions to the Society’s Library being stamped with the Society’s stamp

•              That members of the Society may enjoy the same privileges as at present in the matter of the volumes and periodicals belonging to the Society

•              That this proposal does not refer to the “Transactions”, offprints, and other publications of the Society

 

Later in 1927 they decided to make it a permanent deposit, provided the Museum agreed to the additional stipulations;

●     That members of the Society may enjoy the same privileges as at present in the matter of the volumes and periodicals belonging to the Society, and which may be received in the future in exchange for publications of the Society

●     The Museum will bear the cost of all binding, which shall be undertaken as and when, in the opinion of the Museum Council finances permit. There shall be no differentiation, in this respect, between the Museum Library and the Society’s Library.

 

Although the Society’s Library had been in the care of the Museum Librarian since that time, the Honorary Librarian had always been a member of the Society. But, from 1964 the Honorary Librarian was both a member of the Society and a member of staff in the Museum Library.

 

List of Honorary Librarians

R.W. Atkinson          1892-1902

P. Rhys Griffiths       1902-1906

E.T.B. Reece             1907-1911

H.M. Hallett               1911-1948

H.N. Savory               1949-1962

G.T. Jefferson           1962-1964

E.H. Edwards            1964-1970

E.C. Bridgeman        1970-1976

W.J. Jones                1976-1985

J.R. Kenyon              1985-2013

Weekend for two at Tŷ Newydd up for grabs!

We've been helping Literature Wales to create new literary tourism packages for visitors in Wales. As part of the tours, visitors will be encouraged to come and see literary objects from our collections - our portraits of Dylan Thomas are always a popular choice!

As part of this project, Literature Wales are carrying out an online survey to learn about the types of short breaks people who live in Wales will consider when they are planning a trip. Complete the survey to have a chance to win an exclusive two night, self-catering weekend for two people at Tŷ Newydd.

Good luck!