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Collectors & Collections

October 2013

The Fern Paradise

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 1 October 2013

A lovely pressed fern found between the pages of The Fern Paradise [1876] by Francis George Heath. I'm always a little disappointed that we don't find more pressed flowers in our old botany books so this really made my day.

How long has it been lying quietly cocooned between these dry secure pages? Who picked a live and vibrant frond one summers day and slipped it away never thinking it would stay hidden for decades? Did the sun shine that afternooon? What news was ringing around the world? So many questions...

All photographs in this post taken by the author

 

August 2013

Kunstformen der Natur

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 23 August 2013

Step into a wonderland of colour, a celebration of the natural world in all its artistic and symmetrical glory...

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was an eminent German zoologist who specialized in invertebrate anatomy. He named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many now ubiquitous terms in biology. A popularizer of Charles Darwin, Haeckel embraced evolution not only as a scientific theory, but as a worldview. He outlined a new religion or philosophy called monism, which cast evolution as a cosmic force, a manifestation of the creative energy of nature.

Haeckel’s chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including the development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur  - Art Forms of Nature, a collection of 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations (lithographic and autotype) of animals and sea creatures prints. Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904, and as a complete volume in 1904.

The overriding themes of the Kunstformenplates are symmetry and organization, central aspects of Haeckel's monism. The subjects were selected to embody organization, from the scale patterns of boxfishes to the spirals of ammonites to the perfect symmetries of jellies and microorganisms, while images composing each plate are arranged for maximum visual impact.

Kunstformen der Natur played a role in the development of early twentieth century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art. In particular, many artists associated with the Art Nouveau movement were influenced by Haeckel's images, including René Binet, Karl Blossfeldt, Hans Christiansen, and Émile Gallé.

Our copy of Kunstformen der Natur [photographed here] is a complete bound volume of all ten fascicules and sits in our folio section. It was donated to us in 1919 by the first Director of the National Museum of Wales [from 1909 to 1924], William Evans Hoyle. Hoyle’s trained as a medical anatomist and developed a life long interest in 'cephalopods'. Our BioSyB Department now holds Hoyle's cephalopod collection [over 400 of them] along with many other specimens and publications.

      

      

 

Haeckel biographical information:

Hoyle biographical information:

All photographs in this post taken by the author.

 

 

 

July 2013

Celebrating the tercentenary of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792)

Posted by Julian Carter on 26 July 2013
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute
Plate from Botanical Tables
Plate from Botanical Tables
Plate from Botanical Tables
Plate from Botanical Tables
Plate from Botanical Tables
Plate from Botanical Tables
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In 2013 the tercentenary of the birth of the Third Earl of Bute is being celebrated across Britain with a series of events and new publications. Curators from Amgueddfa Cymru have contributed to a special publication published by Friends of the Luton Hoo Walled Garden, at one of Bute’s former residencies. Maureen Lazarus will also give a lecture at Luton Hoo in the autumn.

Bute was a powerful figure in eighteenth century Britain, both as a politician and as a botanist. He was a friend and confidante of George III who encouraged him to become a politician. In May 1762 he became Prime Minister. However, Bute proved an unpopular leader. Bishop Warburton wrote at the time “Lord Bute is a very unfit man to be Prime Minister of England, first, he is a Scotchman; secondly, he is the King’s friend; and thirdly he is an honest man.”

After a year of political turmoil and dissention, Bute resigned his post. He retired from public life to his house at Highcliffe in Hampshire with his vast botanical library. Here he rekindled his former enthusiasm for botany. Bute worked on several botanical publications and was strongly influenced by the renowned Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. Bute’s best known publication is entitled Botanical Tables containing the different familys of British Plants distinguished by a few obvious parts of Fructification rang’d in a Synoptical method (1785). Its aim is to explain the principles of Linnaeus’s new and controversial taxonomic system. Angueddfa Cymru is fortunate to own a complete set of this rare and exquisite publication.

John Miller (1715-1790) became the main artist of the Botanical tables, a huge task of over 600 illustrations detailing the sexual organs and their number to comply with the Linnaean system. The volumes cover the whole range of plant life from mosses, lichens and seaweeds to fungi and grasses, flowers and trees. Twelve copies of the Tables (each consisting of 9 volumes) were printed by Lord Bute at his own expense at a cost of £1,000. 

In his retirement, Bute was quite isolated. He was closer to European rather than British botanists, perhaps partly as a result of his travels on the continent but probably partly due to his unpopularity in Britain. Curiously, he was never elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London or of the Society of Antiquaries, something which his role as a patron alone ought to have virtually assured him. In spite of this rejection, botany was, no doubt, a satisfying way for him to spend his time in later life in order to avoid the melancholy he referred to in the introduction to Botanical tables.

Bute was particularly keen to explain the taxonomic system to women since he felt that this “delightful part of nature” was peculiarly suited to the attention of the fair sex. Botany, under their protection, would soon become a fashionable amusement. True to this aim Bute presented seven out of the ten copies to women including Queen Charlotte and Catherine II, Empress of Russia.

In 1994 Amgueddfa Cymru acquired a complete copy of the Botanical tables. The curators of the collection, as part of their background research, decided to trace all 12 copies. So far ten sets have been traced, seven of which can be identified with their original recipients. Full details of this project may be found in this paper; Lazarus, M.H. and Pardoe, H.S. (2009) Bute’s Botanical tables: dictated by Nature. Archives of natural history 36 (2): 277–298.

Heather Pardoe and Maureen Lazarus

Theatre of insects

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 8 July 2013

Thomas Moffet [Moufet, Muffet] (1553-1604), was a physician and naturalist. After graduating from Cambridge, he travelled abroad, gained the degree of MD in 1579 from Basel University and eventually established a successful medical practice in Frankfurt. In 1580 he visited Italy, where he studied the culture of the silkworm and developed an absorbing interest in entomology. By 1588 he had returned to England and secured a good practice, first in Ipswich and afterwards in London. On 22 December of that year he was admitted as a candidate of the College of Physicians, then became a fellow and eventually censor. In 1589 he was appointed to a committee responsible for compiling the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1618) for the College of Physicians.

Moffet combined real literary aptitude with his interests in natural philosophy, publishing the lengthy poem, The Silkworms and their Flies, in 1599.

Theatre of Insects was published posthumously. In 1590 he had completed a compendious work on the natural history of insects, partly compiled from the unpublished writings of Edward Wotton, Conrad Gesner and Moffet’s friend [and fellow physician] Thomas Penny. After Moffet’s death, this still unpublished manuscript (BL, Sloane MS 4014) came into the hands of his apothecary [Darnell], who sold it to Sir Theodore Mayerne, who published it in 1634 as Insectorum, sive, Minimorum animalium theatrum. It was translated into English by J. Rowland as The Theatre of Insects, or Lesser Living Creatures and appended to Edward Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents (1658).

We hold copies of both the 1634 and 1658 editions; the copy photographed here is one of the earlier editions.

These books, along with many other early natural history works, were bequeathed to the Library by Willoughby Gardner in 1953 [for more details visit our website or see The Willoughby Gardner Library: a collection of early printed books on natural history, by John R. Kenyon, published by Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru / National Museum Wales, 1982]

It has been supposed, on the basis of Moffet’s interest in spiders that his daughter Patience was the ‘little Miss Muffet’ of the nursery rhyme; although some sources state this unlikely as the rhyme did not appear in print until 1805.

Biographical information taken from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 

June 2013

A 13th Century guide to the heavens

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 5 June 2013

Ioannis de Sacro Bosco [c. 1195 –c. 1256] was a scholar, monk and astronomer [probably English] who taught at the University in Paris. In around 1230 he wrote this authoritative medieval astronomy text Tractatus de Sphaera [On the Sphere of the World]. It gives a readable account of the Ptolemaic universe[the universe according to the Hellenistic astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus in the 2ndcentury AD] that went on to become required reading by students in all Western European universities for the next four centuries. Though principally about the heavens it contains a clear description of the earth as a sphere and its popularity shows the nineteenth-century opinion that medieval scholars after this date thought the Earth was flat as a fabrication [Wikipedia].

This copy [photographed here] is dated 1577 and forms part of our Vaynor Collection; this consists of a number of 16th and 17th century astronomical works, including several of the writings of Galileo. The collection was formed and donated by John Herbert James of Vaynor [which is just north of Merthyr Tydfil].

The condition of this book is excellent; the paper is bright and unmarked, robust to the touch and all the little volvelles [rotating paper wheel charts] still work perfectly.

It is bound in pure white vellum [calf skin] as are the majority of the Vaynor astronomical books which I always think gives them a very "celestial" look.

Butterfly wings

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 5 June 2013

This is just one of the many reasons I love being a librarian; opening a recently catalogued donation [published 1930] to find these beautiful butterfly wings pressed between the pages! Who knows how long they have nestled there undisturbed? 

 

Eliza Rand

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 5 June 2013

A recent purchase and what a cracker! This manuscript diary is titled Tour of Wales and the Marches beginning on 22 August 1827 and consists of 55 pages of exquisite handwriting and ink sketches presumably by Eliza Rand. We say presumably as she hasn’t acknowledged herself as the author but as one of  the only two females on the tour, she mentions her sister Georgiana on p. 32, so it’s a simple enough process of elimination. The account of the tour includes several pen and ink drawings, including a view of the Havod Arms, a harper at Abergele and Beddgelert church. However, of most interest is a drawing of their guide at Cadair Idris, Richard Pugh, posing in front of his cottage, with staff in hand, wearing a goatskin 'mountain dress' and sporting a headress of goat's skull and horns! This was the traditional costume of the Welsh guides [believe it or not] but depictions of it are very rare indeed.

We hold a good selection of 18thand 19th century tours of Wales as they are an invaluable resource of historical information. Many of them are filled with comments and anecdotes on everyday subjects such as chosen routes; care and maintenance of coach and horses, conditions of roads, personalities met en route, quality of inns, descriptions of architecture and [of course!] the weather. For example, this particular diary ends with a summary of the places visited, the number of horses used and the number of turnpikes.  

It’s not in the best condition as the binding has failed and most of the pages are now loose; but for the time being, instead of re-binding, we’re going to house it in a conservation box in an environmentally controlled cabinet.

 

 

 

 
 

January 2013

The launch of 'Wallace 100'

Posted by Julian Carter on 29 January 2013
Bill Bailey launching the 'Wallace Letters Online' website. ©Natural History Museum
Bill Bailey about to unveil the Alfred Russel Wallace portrait ©J.Beccaloni
The unveiled portrait! ©Natural History Museum

On the evening of Thursday 24th January I was fortunate to be invited to the Natural History Museum in London. The event was for the unveiling of a portrait of the intrepid explorer and brilliant naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace by comedian and fellow naturalist Bill Bailey.

The painting was donated to the NaturalHistoryMuseum in 1923 to mark the 100th anniversary of Wallace's birth but was moved in 1971. It has now been restored and returned to its original position on the main stairs of the Central Hall, near to the Charles Darwin statue.

The unveiling of the painting also marked the official launch of Wallace100 and the Wallace Letters Online website, both of which are part of the celebrations for this year's centenary anniversary of Wallace's death.

Some famous names of the natural science world were in attendance at the launch including Sir David Attenborough, whose hand I got to shake!

A number of organisations in Wales, including Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, will be joining the Wallace 100 celebrations. The museum is planning a number of activities and events to run alongside our exhibition planned for later this year. Keep an eye on our website for further information.

November 2012

We have completed our work on the Wallace Palms!

Posted by Julian Carter on 29 November 2012
This image is of a small section of the palm stem of Euterpe oleracea in its original condition prior to conservation work.
Euterpe oleracea collected in 1881 by Wallace and Bates. Shown here after cleaning and prior to reattachment.
The fruiting branches (racemes) of Euterpe oleracea had to be correctly re-positioned after cleaning. Annette is shown here carefully holding the branches in place prior to stabilisation.
The finished product! The specimen has been stabilised and bound with original twine. Fragments and data labels are kept together with the palm.
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Over recent months, botanical conservators Vicky Purewal and Annette Townsend have been carrying out painstaking work on a series of eleven historical palm specimens. They were collected around 1850 by the renowned British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913) during his travels in the Amazon. Wallace is best known for his studies on evolution, which helped trigger the publication of Charles Darwin’s ground breaking research ‘Origin of Species’.

The Wallace palms reside at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the curators there requested that Vicky and Annette, who are specialist conservators in botanical collections at AC-NMW, carry out the necessary conservation work. The specimens are over 150 years old and had to endure adverse conditions in the hold of a ship, and then later to contend with soot and pollution from Battersea Power station. The palms were understandably very fragile and in need of plenty of careful cleaning, re-structuring and repackaging so that their true splendour could be appreciated by all. The palms have been re-housed in custom made boxes so that they can travel back to Kew safely and are also now fit for display.

You will be able to see the palms for yourself on display at AC-NMW in Oct 2013, as RBG Kew will be loaning some of the collection for our Wallace’s bicentenary exhibition and celebrations.

Describing new worms

Posted by Julian Carter on 21 November 2012
A new species of marine bristleworm, Dysponetus joeli.
Marine scientist Teresa Darbyshire has just re-discribed a new species of Polychaete (commonly called marine bristleworms).  Unfortunately, a recent description of the new species, Dysponetus joeli (Olivier et al. 2012) used damaged specimens and errors were made.
 
This is because Polychaetes react notoriously badly to being handled roughly which is usually unavoidable with large marine surveys. Collected specimens are often in very bad condition by the time they are identified.
 
However, hand collected specimens by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales from survey work done in 2009 in the Isles of Scilly were found to be the same species but in very good condition.
 
Using these specimens and comparing them with the original specimens from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris, enabled the errors to be corrected. 
 
A re-description and revised species key have now been published - http://goo.gl/uAUqM.