Alembic Blog

A Lovely 1930s Herbarium of British Plants

Our loveliest recent acquisition is this herbarium created during the 1930s by Elsie T. Skinner, who was attending St. Katharine's College in Tottenham. We specialise in herbaria of various types, especially those made by women, and this one is particularly nice. It contains 151 carefully mounted specimens, representing a remarkable 121 different species from around the UK.

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Prints from Life: Ernst Wilhelm Martius and the History of Nature Printing

Does this print illustrating the belladonna plant look unusual to you? It's from a wonderful 18th-century book that we recently acquiredNeueste Anweisung, Pflanzen nach dem Leben abzudrucken by Wilhelm Martius. Compared to most botanical illustrations of the period (and even modern ones) this example is exceptionally detailed—you can see tiny veins in the leaves, the texture of the stem, and areas where the edges of the leaves have folded over on themselves, as if a living plant was preserved between the book's pages. And that tells us we're looking at, not a typical engraving first produced in wood or metal by an artisan, but a work of nature printing—an impression taken directly from a plant or animal.

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Wandering in Kew Gardens: Illustrations from a Victorian Guidebook

Do you recognise any of these scenes at Kew Gardens in 1857? The illustrations are from a charming book, Wanderings Through the Conservatories at Kew, published less than two decades after Kew's incorporation as a national botanical garden.

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A Rare Biographical Sketch of Rosalind Franklin by Her Mother

Dying at age 38 is a tragedy for anyone, but it is a double tragedy when that person is potentially a Nobel Prize winner with many more years of productive science ahead of them. When biochemist Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958, only a few years after her work contributed to the discovery of the structure of DNA, her mother was distraught not only for the loss of a child but for the international recognition that her daughter had not achieved in life. The result of her grief was this touching autobiographical sketch, Rosalind, published privately a few years later, ostensibly for the much-loved nieces and nephews who would grow up with only dim memories of their aunt.

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One Hundred Photographs from Life: R. B. Lodge & Early Wildlife Photography

Just in time for spring, we've listed these two charming books of early wildlife photography, one by the pioneering bird photographer R. B. Lodge, who took the first photo of a wild bird, a lapwing on its nest, in 1895.

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What Does Sloth Taste Like? A Victorian Guide to Meats of the World

As a rare book seller you spend a lot of time working with books you already know pretty well, the famous or infamous works that have had an out-sized impact on history. But the most fun part of the job lies in the chance encounters - in finding the strange, unusual and near-forgotten volumes that can teach us about the past. Recently I found remarkable Victorian book on how animals were used for food around the world: The Animal Food Resources of Different Nations with Mention of Some of the Special Dainties of Various People Derived from the Animal Kingdom (1885), by Peter Lund Simmonds. In addition to providing detailed information and statistics on the usual domestic and game animals, the book contains passages on the preparation and flavour of a staggering number of exotic creatures.

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Victorian Infographics: Reynolds's Pictorial Atlas of Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, & Machinery

One of the most exciting aspects of recent print & design culture is a renewed emphasis on infographics. But we're certainly not the first generation to be caught up in the visual display of information. In Europe and the United States the Victorian Era saw a flowering of infographics as the industrialisation of printing made it easier and cheaper to create books with detailed colour illustrations.

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All the Animated Beings in Nature: An Illustrated Natural History Dictionary Published in 1802

New in our shop is this delightful natural history book which describes itself as a "Complete Summary of Zoology. Containing a Full and Succinct Description of all the Animated Beings in Nature".

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A Quaker Education Part 2: Priscilla Wakefield's Introduction to Botany

Last week I wrote about a fascinating mathematics textbook "for the use of young ladies" by a Quaker education reformer, and how members of that religious community played an outsized role in the push for women's education and civil rights. Today I catalogued another book written, with young women in mind, by a Quaker activist: An Introduction to Botany in a Series of Familiar Letters, by Priscilla Wakefield.

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Tardigrades and other "Marvels of Pond Life": A Classic Book on Microscopes by Henry J. Slack

By the mid-19th century central London was the teeming metropolis recognisable from Victorian literature, but its outskirts were not yet urbanised and there was ample opportunity for amateur naturalists to explore local woods, heaths, ponds, and streams, many of which have now disappeared. If you chanced on one of those ponds in 1860 you might have found a man eagerly scanning the shoreline, examining the clarity of the water, dipping his walking-stick in to draw out clumps of algae and aquatic plants, and collecting samples in small bottles. Following him home, you would see him sit down at a microscope and carefully prepare slides from these samples, peering into the eye-piece and taking notes, perhaps with his wife at his side sketching the little world in each drop of water.

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