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Back to books!

One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.

‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.

When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.

So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.

  • Back to Books!, Discovering books in the Horniman Library
    Discovering books in the Horniman Library

I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.

Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!

Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.

When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.

  • Back to Books!, Examining books in the Horniman Library
    Examining books in the Horniman Library

I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.

I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman.

Inspired by Anna Atkins

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Our Librarian, Helen Williamson, is here to tell us about her work with our community partners creating beautiful cyanotypes inspired by Anna Atkins.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.
    Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.

‘We have written about Anna Atkins before on Ada Lovelace day but it’s a great opportunity to talk about her again, the beautiful book we hold in the library and the wonderful process of making cyanotypes.

The cyanotype was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. He was a family friend of Atkins and a regular visitor at the family home in Kent. Atkins was a keen artist, as well as an enthusiastic botanist, and recognised that Herschel’s new invention, which required only a few chemicals, water and sunlight, offered an opportunity to approach botanical illustration in a different way.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.

In 1843, she started work producing the cyanotypes that would make up Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. It is considered to be the first ever photographically illustrated book and we are very lucky to have a copy in our library which was previously owned by the museum’s founder, Frederick Horniman.

To make a cyanotype, objects are placed on a sheet of chemically treated paper and then exposed to sunlight. The length of exposure depends upon how bright a day it is. Once exposed, the paper is washed in water and dried, with the colour fully developing when dry.

The process of creating cyanotypes is almost unchanged since Anna Atkins was making her book, and it creates remarkably stable prints. Most early photographic prints have deteriorated completely by now or need to be kept in strict, environmentally-controlled storage. Cyanotypes, on the other hand, have endured amazingly well. The colours in our copy of her Photographs of British Algae are beautifully vivid and the paper is robust enough for handling and display.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.
    Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.

Over the summer the library and the learning team ran an engagement project with a number of our community partners who were challenged to make cyanotypes of their own, inspired by Anna Atkins and using the botanical world around them. This is some of the beautiful work they produced.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.
    Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.
    Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.
    Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.

A book of all of the cyanotypes made during this project is available to view in the library, alongside other material about Anna Atkins.

Visit one of our Library Open Days on the first Sunday of every month, or book an appointment.

Art inspiration at the Horniman library

How the Horniman library influences local artists.

For the last 115 years the Horniman Museum library has been a resource for anyone wishing to research subjects related to natural history, anthropology and musical instruments.

This group includes not only academics, curators and students but also gardeners, textile designers, architects and artists. 

One such artist is Ian Robinson who visited the library in 2015 and spent time with some of the older anthropology books in our collection, which had originally belonged to Frederick Horniman. These resulting works were exhibited at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea earlier this year.

For anyone interested in visiting the library, we are open by appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on the first Sunday of every month (no appointment needed). 

Find out more information about the Horniman library.

More of Ian’s artwork can be viewed on his website.

Bookblitz: Early Entomology

It's been a while since we last had a Bookblitz blog post, so we're returning to the topic with a look at some of the most stunning works from our historic Library collection.

Linking with our collections, the Horniman Library contains many newer works all about entomology, or the study of insects. Now a staple of natural history museums, a few centuries ago studying these small creatures was a rare practice, making our detailed 17th and 18th century guides to the insect world particularly special. Several were highlighted as 'stars' of our collection by the recent Bioblitz review.

  • Our early entomological publications were highlighted by the Bioblitz project as 'stars' of our collection, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

It is thanks to collectors such as Frederick Horniman, who had a particular interest in entomology, that these early volumes have survived.

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

The earliest entomology volume in our collection is Samuel Purchas' 'A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects', published in 1657, which spends much time expanding on 'the excellency of the bee'.

  • Chapter page of Samuel Purchas' 'A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects', published 1657, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • Samuel Purchas' 'A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects', published 1657, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

It is not until the slightly later volume by Johannes Godartius that we start to see the inclusion of illustrations, a feature of entomological works that so often captures attention.

  • 'Johannes Godartius of Insects', published 1682, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • 'Johannes Godartius of Insects' offers illustrations on fold-out pages, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The monochrome images in 'Johannes Godartius of Insects' (published 1682) were printed from careful copper etchings made by a 'Mr F Pl'.

  • A closer look at some of the copperplate illustrations from 'Johannes Godartius of Insects', Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Later still, entomological illustration hits a high in 'Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium' by Maria Sybilla Merian.

  • Maria Merian's study of insects is punctuated with stunning full page illustrations, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Merian was one of the first people to study the life cycle of butterflies in detail, including their transformation from caterpillars.

  • Maria Merian was one of the first people to closely observe and document butterfly metamorphosis, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

She also illustrated her own work, producing dozens of beautifully detailed prints not just of insects but of the many animals and plants that shared their habitats.

  • Merian also studyied plants and other animals, depicting them in detail in her illustrations, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

This copy, published in Dutch in 1730, has been later rebound by Horniman himself. This was often done to better protect pages as well as to give a collector's library and more uniform look, meaning it is rare to see older volumes in their original binding.

  • A label shows where Frederick Horniman rebound his older volumes, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Also highlighted by our Entomology Bioblitz is an 1821 volume written in High German. This was especially unusual to find outside Germany at the time Horniman was collecting.

  • 'Schmetterlings Cabinet' is printed in High German, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Christian Friedrich Vogel's 'Schmetterlings-Cabinet für Kinder' is a children's guide not only to various species of European butterflies, but also to catching, keeping and displaying your own specimens. By this time, entomology and further study of the natural world had become a popular hobby for young people.

  • Vogel's work contained detailed notes on how a child could capture and preserve their own specimens, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The book is filled with vibrantly hand-coloured plates, not unlike modern nature guides.

  • Just one of many detailed illustrations that make up this printed 'butterfly cabinet', Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • Vogel described and illustrated each butterfly species clearly, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • Each of Vogel's illustrations is meticulously hand-painted, The colours of these illustrations remain remarkably vivid after years preserved between the pages., Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The colours of these illustrations remain remarkably vivid after years preserved between the pages., Photo by Vicky Pearce

If you're interested in viewing these stunning early entomological books for yourself you can book a visit to our Library by emailing our Librarian on enquiry@horniman.ac.uk. You can also discover insect specimens in our collections.

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.

Bookblitz

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

Early Entomology

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