Skip to main content

Two books from the library of Sir Hans Sloane

Two books from the library of Sir Hans Sloane

The following article originally appeared in Issue 47 of the Canterbury Cathedral Library and Archives Newsletter in the Autumn of 2010.

Sir Hans Sloane MD, FRS, FRCP (1660–1753), was a celebrated 18th century physician and scientist. He was a royal physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II, and of Royal Society from 1727 to 1740. He was also President of the Royal College of Physicians. More importantly (if that is possible) he accumulated one of the largest collections of books of his time, particularly strong in scientific and medical works. In his will, Sloane offered his collection to the nation on provision of £20,000 for his heirs which was much less than the real value of the books. Parliament accepted the offer and in 1759 his library became one of the founding collections in the library of the newly established British Museum, together with the library of Sir Robert Cotton and the Old Royal Library, given by King George II. Sloane’s contribution to this new national library has been estimated at about 50,000 volumes.

By end of the eighteenth century, Sloane’s printed books had been interspersed with items from other collections, particularly the Old Royal Library, and with subsequent acquisitions. In many cases it was no longer clear which books had belonged to Sloane because of the practice of binding or re-binding the books in the Museum’ own style. This involved removing preliminary leaves where Sloane’s identification marks are often found.

As the British Museum’s library grew, it found itself with many duplicate items when the same edition had been received from several different collections. A number of sales of these duplicates were held between 1769 and 1832. As a result of such sales a large number of Sloane’s books left the Library. Many can now be found in libraries both in the UK and abroad. In addition, a further section of Sloane’s collections moved to what is now the Natural History Museum.

In 2008 a research project led by the Welcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, in collaboration with the British Library, set out to create a public database of all of Sloane’s know books. This includes rediscovering Sloane items within the British Library’s collections as well as finding items that had been dispersed through the sales of duplicates.

David Shaw, who had directed the project to catalogue the Cathedral Library’s books printed before 1801, knew that the Cathedral owned books with British Museum duplicate stamps. These included 16 items from the duplicate sales in 1787, 1804, 1818 and 1831. Two of these items have an inscription reading ‘Bibliothecae Sloanianae’ (i.e. from the Sloane Library). They are both early editions of the English translation of the Bible:

The Byble in Englyshe, that is to saye … ye olde and newe testament, truly translated after the
veryte of the Hebrue and Greke texts [London]: Prynted by Rychard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, 1539.
Sloane nos: A 119 (crossed through) and A 242

CO 006120: imperfect: title page repaired; prelims and final leaves damaged or missing; on leaf a3: inscription ‘A.119. 242 Bibliothecæ Sloanianæ’; ink stamps on final leaf ‘Duplicate 1804’ and ‘Museum Britannicum’.

The Byble in Englyshe … auctorysed and apoynted by the commaundemente of … Kynge Henrye the .VIII. supreme heade of this his churche and Realme of Englande: to be frequented and vsed in every churche w’in this his sayd realme. [London]: Edward Whitchurch, 1540/1541.

CO 006124: imperfect: title page, prelims and final leaves missing; on leaf a2: inscription ‘Bibliothecæ Sloanianæ A.243’ and ink stamps ‘Museum Britannicum’ and ‘Duplicate 1804’.

Both of these books were disposed of in a duplicate sale in 1804, probably because they were in poorer condition than other copies of these editions in the Museum’s collections. They came into the Cathedral with the library of Archdeacon Benjamin Harrison (1808–1887). Both volumes have his book plate on the front end paper. As Harrison was not born until four years after the sale of British Museum’s duplicates, it is likely that the books were purchased either by Archbishop Howley (1766–1848), who left some of his own library to Archdeacon Harrison, or possibly by Harrison’s father (also called Benjamin, 1771–1856) who is known to have made a collection of Bibles and liturgical works. Both books have a pencil note on the front flyleaf giving references to the catalogue of Bibles Testaments Psalms and other Books of the Holy Scriptures in English in the Collection of Lea Wilson Esq. F.S.A. Etc., published in 1845. The Library has two copies of this catalogue, one with the book plate of Archbishop Howley, the other apparently given to the Library by Lea Wilson. One of these is likely to have been the source for these annotations.
These two items have been added to the database of Sir Hans Sloane’s printed books, which is being maintained at the British Library

David Shaw, Library volunteer

image of the Cathedral
Top Of Page
New Website! What do you think?