Historic Library Group

The Historic Library housed in the Yorkshire Museum is a treasure trove of books about the natural world and human history. Established by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 1823, it houses about 42,000 volumes dating from 16th century to the present day. Many of its books are connected with the period when the Museum was set up in the early 1800s, when palaeontology and geology were new areas of science that gripped people’s imaginations.

The YPS was very well connected in this world – the library contains books personally donated and uniquely annotated by scientists making discoveries in the fields of palaeontology, geology, archaeology, and animal and plant biology; and people who played a significant part in the establishment of  the Natural History Museum, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

A team of volunteers, led by members of the YPS, has been working hard to help reunite and organise the library over the last few years and it is now open to the public on selected days. An online catalogue is in progress and individual books are available for research by appointment with the Yorkshire Museum curatorial team.


Some highlights of the collection:


A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire coast by Rev. George Young & John Bird, artist (1822)

The first book given to the library – soon to be superseded by John Phillips’ 1829 book on fossils of the Yorkshire coast which employed a much more scientific approach.

Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire: …the YorkshireCoast… by John Phillips (1829)

John Phillips (1800-1874) paved the way for our modern understanding of geological time. This was the first scientific work on fossils of the Yorkshire coast. Many of the specimens illustrated by Phillips are still held at the YorkshireMuseum, where he started his career.

Rare hand-coloured maps and volumes by William Smith, ‘father’ of English geology

Used by Smith and Phillips to help arrange their fossil collection; some personally donated by Smith. The Museum collection also contains Smith’s magnificent 6ft x 9ft hand coloured geological map of Britain and one of his surveying instruments.

Report of the first and second meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science: at York in 1831, and at Oxford in 1832 (1833)

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society played an important role in creation the BA (as it is now known). YPS Members helped define the BA’s purpose and hosted their first meeting in 1831, at the YorkshireMuseum. This book includes a letter of thanks bound into its covers.

Reliquiae Diluvianae by William Buckland (1823)

This copy of ‘Remains of the Flood’ was donated by Buckland in 1823. It explores the fossil bones of extinct and exotic animals discovered at KirkdaleCave, Yorkshire, which challenged views of Biblical creation.

Fossilia hantoniensia by Gustavus Brander (1766) donated by Gideon Mantell

Mantell was one of the first scientists to discover dinosaur fossilised remains. He personally donated some of his volumes to the library. This one contains his personal bookplate.

A catalogue of the organic remains of the county of Wilts by Ethelred Bennett (1831)

Bennett was one of the first women geologists. She gave this book to the library in 1831, along with an extensive donation of Wiltshire fossils.

Tempest Anderson’s personal library collection

Tempest Anderson (1846-1913) was prominent in the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Geographical, Geological and Linnaean Societies, the Museums Association and many more. But his first love was always the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, of which he was president at the time of his death. He turned his attention to vulcanology which had received little serious study at the time, and travelled the world from the 1880s to photograph volcanic eruptions and their aftermath. he His personal library is now part of this collection.

De Re Metallica (On the Nature of Metals – Minerals) by Georgius Agricola, 1561

This seminal work was the first comprehensive book on the ‘metallic arts’: mining, minerals and metals. Extensive information is accompanied by woodcut diagrams illustrating processes and equipment. The library’s copy is a 2nd edition of the original Latin version.

The herball, or generall historie of plantes by John Gerard (1597)

‘Herbals’ helped botanists and physicians identify medicinal plants. Gerard’s is one of the best-known English herbals. Gerard was an avid plant collector but not a scholar and this first edition is notoriously unreliable! Most of the woodcut illustrations were hired from a publisher in Frankfurt. Gerard matched many of these illustrations to descriptions of the wrong plants. One of the few original illustrations in this edition is accompanied by the first known description of the potato in English.

Eboracum: or the history and antiquities of the City of York… by Francis Drake (1736)

Drake’s history of York was unprecedented in its time. Today it is regarded as the first and most influential history of the City. This copy contains unique manuscript additions by the author. Additional plates and private leaves have been inserted. Illustrations of arms and stained glass have been beautifully coloured by John Cade. It was presented to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society by the subscribers to the “Wellbeloved Memorial” in 1859.

Roberts’ Holy Land (1842-1849)

This large volume was a huge bestseller in its day – portraying ancient sites in the Holy Land on a magnificent scale never seen before.