Early science

Pioneering thinkers from every discipline are represented in the early science collections, whether promoters of the 17th century scientific revolution, such as John Wilkins, or enlightenment rationalists, like D'Alembert. The broad chronological scope encompasses the 15th century Balbi's Catholicon and the Hortus Sanitatis, and the Origin of Species. Figures such as Robert Boyle, John Ray, Thomas Burnet and William Smith have been collected in depth. The earth science holdings are outstanding.

Notable specialised collections in this field are:

Geology (Eyles and Geology Rare Book collections)

The geology collections cover controversy about the formation of the earth, no less than geological mapping and regional geologies, and mineralogical and mining treatises.  In all the collections comprise more than 2,000 titles.

Mathematical sciences (e.g. the Exley and Nelson collections)

The library of Thomas and John Thompson Exley, father and son, is rich in works of mathematics and physics: Sampson, Hutton, Agnesi, Cauchy, Bernoulli and Méchain are a few of the names associated with the collection.  The Nelson collection of mathematical tables includes works of the 18th century, but is predominantly composed of publications of the 19th.

Chemistry (Garner Collection)

The Garner Collection contains more than 600 titles covering chemistry and alchemy, with early classics such as the first edition of Biringucci's Pirotechnia (1540) and many other instances of the practical application of chemical knowledge, such as Accum on gas light and Daguerre on photography.

Ornithology (Wiglesworth Collection)

One of the most comprehensive ornithological collections in the UK, including classic works by Aldrovandi, Buffon, Le Vaillant, Gould and Rothschild; numerous local studies; and reports of scientific exploration.


Herbals and floras, early biochemistry, Curtis' Botanical magazine, and even a work on Portugal once owned by Linnaeus feature in this collection.  A former director of Kew Gardens, William Thiselton-Dyer, and members of the Fry family contributed to its growth.

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Illustration of a clover plant.
Strawberry clover illustrated in William Curtis, Flora Londinensis. (1777-1798).
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