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Rare books come up for air

By: Michael Hugill, Category: Science, Date: 20 Apr 2011

When we talk about ‘objects’ we don’t just mean dinosaur skeletons, taxidermied animals or gemstones...

Sidney William Jackson's cards

 © Australian Museum


While the Museum might be famous for the things mentioned above, ‘objects’ also refers to books. Did you know that our Research Library contains a significant collection of Rare Books numbering over 5000 volumes? This collection is regularly used and consulted in the day to day work of our scientists. The library also holds one of the finest natural history collections in Australia.

Some of these books were recently made available for viewing by general staff here, so I grabbed a camera and a notebook and met with Library Manager Leone Lemmer.

“Often people just don’t know we have this incredible collection of rare books, covering natural history, anthropology and early explorations of the Pacific and Australia,” Leone told me.

She was then kind enough to point out and explain three of the more interesting books. Forgive my amateur photography…

Sidney William Jackson's cards

“This collection of cards showed up at the UNSW Book Fair in 2011 and by an incredible stroke of luck was bought and then donated to the Museum by a lady named Judith Stoner. The cards were created by well-known natural historian Sidney William Jackson towards the end of the 19th Century. On one side are feathers from the Night Parrot (which is probably extinct), the Rufus Scrub bird and the Noisy Scrub bird. On the other side are his hand-written notes. Original materials like this have a lot of historical significance.”

George French Angas's nudibranches

“This is the one and only copy in the world of George French Angas’ original sketches of Australian nudibranchs (sea slugs). He produced several other books including ‘South Australia Illustrated’ which is famous for its landscapes and portraits of indigenous people. He actually worked here at the Australian Museum from 1853 until 1860.”

Icones Animalium

“These pages are from a book called ‘Icones Animalium…’ by Conrad Gesner, which was published in 1560 and is one of the oldest books in our library. It was the first encyclopaedia of natural history. Funnily enough, there’s a unicorn in the book and a woman with bird talons, but there are also animals we’d recognise today. It is still useful because it tells us the early distribution of some species.”

1 comment

Lynda Kelly - 4.04 PM, 20 April 2011

Nice post Michael. The Research Library is a true treasure trove!

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