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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.