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A newly-discovered nature printed book features alongside other curiosities in Cambridge University Library’s new virtual exhibition, Collected Curiosities. It belonged to Dr Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, and was previously owned and possibly produced by Erasmus’s eldest son, also called Charles, who died in 1778 at the age of nineteen.

The book (MS Add.10141) was created using nature printing, a method that was introduced in the 17th century and popular with naturalists who were not artistically inclined, or who were unable to overcome the difficulties of preserving plant specimens on expeditions. The size of this particular book indicates that it could have been carried in the pocket to identify trees and plants when on walks. The flyleaf inscription, “This Book is Dr. Darwin’s & is to be return’d when done with” also implies that Erasmus loaned it out.

To complement our major exhibition, Curious Objects, a total of twenty additional exhibits, ranging from a biscuit tin globe to advice on ‘Bicycling for Ladies’, have been put online for this spin-off exhibition thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This funding will also enable the nature printed book to be fully digitised on the Cambridge Digital Library, as well as making it possible for local young adults to become ‘curators for a day’ during a special visit to the Library. 

Following a public vote, students from Long Road and Hills Road Sixth Form Colleges visited the Library to work with conservation and curation staff to create a mini pop-up exhibition of the public’s favourite items from the virtual exhibition. The chosen collected curiosities will be on display in the main University Library’s Entrance Hall from 3-10 December. 

The full virtual exhibition, Collected Curiosities, is available online now.