The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue
The Sloane Printed Books catalogue lists books which belonged to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). His was one of the largest libraries in Europe of its time, and particularly significant for its holdings of medical and scientific material. In this catalogue, bibliographical records are enhanced with Sloane's own numbers or other identifying marks, and with information about previous owners. A number of records include information on the physical state and condition of the items. This catalogue opens up Sloane’s library for research into what he owned, how he used it, from whom he acquired items, and how the collection was managed. It is a resource for the historian of science or medicine, the intellectual historian, and the historian of information.
The Sloane Printed Books Project
A two-year project, which runs from April 2008 to April 2010, led by the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London in collaboration with the British Library, and funded by the Wellcome Trust Research Resources in Medical History, is enabling a research team to enlarge substantially an existing database which was not previously publicly available. In July 2008 it was launched as one of the Library’s special catalogues, with over 13000 records. Additions to the catalogue will be made regularly throughout the period of the project.The project team will report on developments and events, and welcomes comment and correspondence about all aspects of the catalogue and studies based on it. Information about the progress of the project will be posted on an interactive blog, to be set up in the near future.
- History of the collections
Sloane’s collections, held initially at his home in Bloomsbury, and later at the manor house in Chelsea, were well known and much used and visited, both by members of the scientific community and by visiting dignitaries. The diversity and extent of the collections is illustrated by the list transmitted to his executors in 1753. There were some 80,000 items of which the largest single category was printed books, the second coins and medals, followed by varying numbers of specimens - dried plants and other botanical items, insects, shells, fish, quadrupeds, metals and minerals, precious stones, etc. In his will, Sloane specified that his collection should be offered to the nation on provision of £20,000 for his heirs. This legacy effectively catalysed the creation of the British Museum, and Sloane’s materials formed one of its three founding collections.
The substantial article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography should be consulted for the salient facts of Sloane’s life, and an outline of his collections. See also A. Macgregor, “The Life, Character and Career of Sir Hans Sloane” in Sir Hans Sloane, Collector, Scientist, Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum ed. A. Macgregor, London: British Museum, 1994. More extensive biographies by G.R. de Beer, Sir Hans Sloane and the British Museum, London, 1953, and E.St.J. Brooks, Sir Hans Sloane, the Great Collector, London, 1954, are also useful.
The later history of Sloane’s library
On Sloane’s death in 1753 his collection of books and manuscripts was estimated at 50,000 volumes, of which 136 were books of prints, 2666 volumes of manuscripts and the remainder printed books. The number of printed books must be considered approximate. At the foundation of the Museum, his books were moved from Chelsea to Montague House along with the other collections. Although Sloane’s books were kept in designated rooms, they were placed into subject categories, the Museum trustees having expressed their opinion that the books were ‘dispos’d in a very irregular manner, with little regard to the subjects or even the size of them’ and ordered that they should be re-arranged by subject; they should be ‘placed on the shelves according to their respective faculties’. By end of the eighteenth century, Sloane’s books were interspersed with items from other sources, particularly the Old Royal Library, and with subsequent acquisitions. In many cases, evidence of identity was lost by the early practice of binding or re-binding in a Museum style which involved removing the preliminary leaves where Sloane’s identification marks are often found.
The British Museum duplicate sales
The British Museum held a number of sales of duplicate items, in 1769, 1788, 1805, 1818, 1819, 1831 and 1832. As a result of these sales an unknown but evidently substantial number of Sloane’s books left the Museum, many of which are now to be found in libraries both in the UK and abroad. The 1769 sale catalogue is the only one for which we have an extant copy with indications of the collections from which the lots were taken. 390 separate Sloane items are listed there, to which must be added many tract items sold as part of mixed lots. One of the aims of the Sloane Printed Books project is to locate as many as possible of the items disposed of as duplicates and to enter them in the catalogue, in order to give a complete listing of the collection.
Items sold at these sales were normally stamped as duplicates. The example below was sold as a duplicate in 1787, bought by Sir Joseph Banks, and subsequently re-entered the Museum with Banks’s collection after his death in 1820.
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