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Bookblitz: The Oldest Book in the Collection

So far in our Bookblitz series, we've shared some fairly old volumes from our Library collections. However, not many come close to the age of this book.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica is a hugely influential early medical text, first written almost 2000 years ago, around 40-90AD. Our volume isn't quite that age, but is an edition of the last book (there 5 in total) printed in 1529.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

The text is printed in its original Greek, accompanied by a Latin translation and a newer Latin 'interpretation', probably added in the 1500s.

  • The text is printed in ancient Greek and Latin, with a newer 'interpres' in Latin, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Our copy was rebound in the 1800s, and is accompanied by an additional 1830 commentary on all 5 books in De Materia Medica.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

There is lots of bookworm damage clearly visible both to the binding and throughout the pages, although the beetle larvae which caused this have long-since died.

  • Our De Materia Medica has noticeable pest damage, but is in relatively good condition for its age, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Still, this elderly book is in better condition than many Victorian volumes which, while younger, were produced in greater numbers and at lower cost.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica remained in print for 1500 years, becoming the supreme authority for European medicine for centuries. It's author, a Roman physician of Greek origin called Pedanius Dioscorides, became known as the 'father of pharmacology' for his extensive advice concerning the creations and applications of medicines.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

Today, digitised copies of De Materia Medica can be accessed online. It remains a prime source of information about medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient cultures.

Bookblitz: Another Frederick Hornemann

During the Bookblitz of our historic volumes, our librarian Helen came across a book that seemed at first as if it might contain a typo or two. 'Frederick Horneman's Travels in Africa' sounds like it might be an account of our founder's adventures during which he gathered some of the museum's collection.

But on closer inspection this volume is quite a bit older than our own Frederick John Horniman, who was born in 1835. The book contains an account of the incredible travels of a German man with a name rather similar to that of our founder.

Friedrich Hornemann (his name is anglicised to 'Frederick' for our volume, while the last 'n' is removed in the printed version) spent years exploring parts of Africa which no Europeans had travelled to in around 100 years.

  • The Journal of Frederick Horneman's Travels, The printers didn't seem to agree with Hornemann about the spelling of his name
    The printers didn't seem to agree with Hornemann about the spelling of his name

His 'Travels' contains both handwritten entries and printed accounts translated from the original German for the years 1797-8, during which he travelled the 'Interior of Africa', setting out from Cairo in Egypt. He was just 24 at the time.

Hornemann was perhaps a good deal more of an intrepid traveller than our founder, who obtained most of his collection by buying it from other explorers, and only travelled widely much later in life.

It is tempting to imagine our own Frederick Horniman reading these accounts, perhaps developing a desire to do some of his own travelling in and collecting from 'undiscovered' lands.

  • Our Frederick Horniman's own bookplate, Hornemann's journal was a part of our founder's own personal library
    Hornemann's journal was a part of our founder's own personal library

Hornemann's account is punctuated by his hand drawn maps of the regions, while large fold out charts by Major James Rennel are added to this volume to show his whole journey.

Also included are a number of letters and minute documents detailing the preparations needed to arrange for his trip, which was undertaken on behalf of the London-based African Association (explaining why his journal is written in English).

They provide a brilliant insight into 18th century travel, detailing the expenses expected to occur (including a compass, telescope and sextant), languages Hornemann would learn in advance and his need to become familiar with the 'manner and customes of all such stangers'.

We're unsure what happened to this world explorer. It seems he kept travelling for the rest of his life, and in 1803 was recorded as being in Tripoli. It is thought that he died in 1819, somewhere in or near Nigeria. No other European explorer followed his route again until 1910.

Bookblitz: Man, his Structure and Physiology

The next find from our Bookblitz of the historic library collections may not be to everybody's taste, but to those with an interest in scientific illustration this book is something quite special.

Once owned by Frederick Horniman himself, 'Man: His Structure and Physiology' was written by Robert Knox, a Scottish surgeon best known for his use of bodies from the infamous Burke and Hare murders.

Although he was never prosecuted for his involvement in the crimes, Knox found himself understandably unpopular in Edinburgh. In 1842, after the death of his wife, he made the decision to move to London where he became a science journalist and published several works, including this one.

Knox illustrated his work not only with black and white diagrams, but with intricately detailed colour illustrations.

Many 19th century medical texts feature similar images, but this volume from our library is quite special. The book's frontipiece proudly declares it includes 'eight moveable dissected coloured plates'.

Each of the coloured illustrations folds out to reveal more details of human anatomy.

Some have several layers to be revealed.

Knox also address some smaller parts of the human body with as much detail.

'Man: His Structure and Physiology' covers every part of the human body, with the exception of genetalia.

Despite his influential early career, Knox's reputation never recovered. Although he continued to publish works on human anatomy, he found it impossible to work as a surgeon, and his books about fishing sold best.

Bookblitz: Japanese Fairy Tales

While reviewing our historic book collections, our librarian Helen came across many volumes that were owned by the founder of the Museum, Frederick Horniman. One of the most beautiful sets is a collection of Japanese Fairy Tales.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Although Frederick Horniman collected a huge range of objects from around the world, most were bought from other travellers. Frederick himself did not travel widely until much later in his life.

However, our records show that Frederick brought these four volumes, each containing a number of stories, back to the UK himself after he travelled to Japan in the early 1890s.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Every story is accompanied by beautifully detailed illustrations. They show the influence of traditional Japanese art, as well an an almost graphic novel style which is easy to imagine as a precursor to manga, devloped in Japan in the mid-1900s.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales - The Princess Splendour, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Many of the tales told echo the themes found in traditional European stories. Animals feature prominently as characters with their own voice and moral message to impart.

  • A page from Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

And, just as in traditional folk tales all over the world, they also include depictions violent acts we might not associate with 'fairy tales' today.

  • A page from Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

It may seem unusual that these books are printed in English, as is printed proudly on the spines. Volumes such as these were widely produced in Japan in the late 1800s for a tourist market.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales - The Tongue Cut Sparrow, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Japan became a popular destination for European tourists after the country's isolationist policy came to an end in the 1850s, opening up Japan to the West.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales - The Tongue Cut Sparrow, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

These four small volumes are a particularly exciting discovery for us not only because they are beautiful and represent a moment in world history, but because they are objects chosen by Frederick Horniman himself to add to his library.

Bookblitz: Crocodile Hunting in Central America

When our librarian Helen came across this title in her Bookblitz project, it was obvious it was one of the more intriguing titles in our historic collection.

While the title might be enough to entice a reader, what makes this book even more special is the fact it tells the story of some natural history specimens from a museum across the pond.

'Crocodile Hunting in Central America' was written in 1952 by Karl P. Schmidt, then Chief Curator of Zoology at the Chicago Natural History Museum (now the Field Museum). The book reports on a trip taken to Belize in 1923 with the aim of acquiring specimens for a new exhibition.

The crocodiles for the new display would not be taxidermy, but instead reproduced from a plaster cast of the animal. Unfortunately, it's rather difficult to produce a cast of a living crocodile.

It's surprising for anyone today to hear that collecting specimens for a museum display would involve hunting wild animals, but in the 1920s this was common practice. Without modern photography and film it was the best way to show those who were unable to travel the wonder and diversity of the natural world.

Of course, this is no longer supported by museums, which now aim to source their specimens using more ethical means, and for specific scientific purposes. Still, this volume is an important part of the historical record for all museums, including the Horniman, representing a period where we did things very differently.

The book also provides a detailed record of the ingenious methods used to create the replica crocodiles.

As it was published some time after the 1923 expedition, there's even a photograph of the finished product on display in the Chicago Natural History Museum.

The Field Museum regularly share their archive photographs on Tumblr, showing how other specimens from their collection were prepared for display. We'd love to know if the archive includes some of the image from 'Crocodile Hunting in Belize'.

Also look out for a blog post later this week revealing more about how modern taxidermists acquire their specimens.


We've posted a lot about the Bioblitz project, but while the Natural History team have been busy sorting through thousands of specimens, our librarian Helen has been tackling her own review of the Horniman Library's historic books.

  • An 18th century travel journal from the library's historic collection, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The Horniman Museum and Gardens has always had a library, which used to be in the room now taken up by the Hands On Base before it got its own dedicated building.

Librarians have continued to add to the library right up to the present day, focusing on books which have strong connections to the collections - Natural History, Anthropology and Musical Instruments - and to the Horniman itself.

Now, the Horniman Library is regularly used by staff for research purposes, and is open to the public by appointment on Thursdays and Fridays (email enquiry@horniman.ac.uk to arrange a visit). You can also browse the library catalogue online.

  • A 19th century book of handwritten 'recipes', Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The library's oldest volumes were donated when the museum was founded, including many by the Horniman family. Some volumes are centuries old, while others tell stories from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is this historic collection which has been the focus of Helen's 'Bookblitz' for the last year.

  • Frederick Horniman's own bookplate in an early Entomology volume, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The reasons behind carrying out this review are similar to those behind Bioblitz and Collections People Stories. By examining each volume on the shelves closely, Helen is able to establish exactly what we have, and whether anything is particularly special or needs extra attention, either from researchers or our Conservation team.

  • An old volume showing signs of damage from bookworm , Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

One of the most important tasks is checking that the numbers assigned to each book in the original accession registers and modern catalogue, and those attached to the books themselves all match. Just like in the object collections, these unique numbers allow us to track the book's history and everything we have learnt about it.

  • An original accession register, showing volumes added to the Horniman Library in the 1930s, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

With the other collections reviews running alongside, the Bookblitz has offered a fantastic opportunity to make new links with other Horniman collections. We even have some books which tell the story of how our own museum objects were collected.

  • An intriguing title, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Just like Bioblitz and Collections People Stories, people with specialist knowledge have thrown new light on some of the library's collection. Judith MaGee, Special Collections Curator at the Natural History Museum, joined Helen to look over the fantastic Natural History volumes.

  • An early entomology volume complete with stunning illustrations, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

We'll be blogging about a few of the discoveries Helen has made when making her way through the library's catalogues, so stay tuned to see more fascinating historical books.

Bookblitz blog posts:

Crocodile Hunting in Central America

Japanese Fairy Tales

Man: His Structure and Physiology

Another Frederick Hornemann

The Oldest Book in the Collection: De Materia Medica

Celebrating Women in Science

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths. The annual even is named in honour of Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, and we'd like to take the chance to introduce you to a pioneering female scientist whose work we hold in the Horniman Collections: Anna Atkins.

  • Anna Atkins in 1861, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    , Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1799, Anna grew up as the daughter of scientist and secretary to The Royal Society. This put her in place to hear about and learn some of the newest scientific developments of the 1800s. She was a keen botanist and scientific illustrator, and when photography began to emerge as a new technique, she was one of the first to put it to good use.

Using an early photographic method known as cyanotyping, Anna began producing photographic plates of British algae, using specimens from her collection. Eventually she completed three volumes, which are now recognised as the first books ever to be published with photographic illustrations.

Anna Atkins is also widely recognised as the first woman ever to create a photograph.

During a recent review of the Horniman's collection of historic books, Librarian Helen uncovered the Horniman's own copy of this important work.

As the volumes were self-published, and the plates each made by hand, each version (and there aren't many left) is slightly different. Ours has a total of 457 plates bound in four books which were originally owned by Frederick Horniman.

We're very proud to have such an important work by a female scientist in our collection. It has inspired Helen and our Aquarium staff to work together to research and discover more about Anna Atkins and her work, which we hope will lead to a future exhibition where we can showcase some of Anna's beautiful images.

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