A CATALOGUE OF THE ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM, Descriptive of the zoological specimens, antiquities, coins, and miscellaneous curiosities. Oxford, Printed by S. Collingwood.
1836. Large 8vo, pp. [iv], viii, 188; with steel engraved frontispiece, folding steel engraved plate, and wood-engraved title-page vignette; plates a little browned and foxed, with some offsetting from frontispiece onto title-page, lightly browned throughout, gutter cracked at p. ii; ex-libris from Gloucester County Council with their stamp on front pastedown, and loosely inserted presentation bookplate at rear of book; contemporary maroon pebble-grained cloth, black morocco label lettered in gilt on spine, head and tail of spine lightly bumped and worn, joints cracked but holding, spine and covers a little sunned and faded, corners a little worn. First edition of this extensive catalogue, compiled by the Keeper of the Museum, Philip Bury Duncan (1772-1863). His brother, John Shute (?1769-1844), had preceded him in the role, and since 1824 had done much to improve the organisation of the Museum, which had been fallen into neglect. His appointment coincided with an upsurge of interest at Oxford in the study of natural history, and so with the general approval of the university, J. S. Duncan set about rearranging the collections, and undertaking much needed preservation and conservation work. Philip succeeded his brother in 1829, making further improvements, a note at the tail of p. viii stating that ‘since his appointment the Museum, in consequence of the addition of the Lower room, has been in a great measure newly arranged, and considerable additions have been made... the printed books and MSS. have been repaired, and catalogues made of these as well as the other contents of the Museum’. As Brock notes further ‘no other arrangement could have ensured a greater continuity of purpose than that which marked the transfer of the office from one brother to the other. Philip Duncan too promoted the cause of the natural sciences in Oxford, although his term of office saw the final alienation from the Ashmolean of the geological material which had once formed the principal element of its scientific collections. With the freeing of the ground-floor premises consequent on the departure of the geology professor and his specimens, Philip Duncan put in motion another radical programme of reorganization of the displays’ (Brock and Curthoys, The History of the University of Oxford Volume VI, Nineteenth Century Oxford, p. 600).
The catalogue begins with a brief history of the collection. ‘It is agreed on by all our antiquarian, that the Tradescant collection, which was the foundation of the Ashmolean Museum, was the earliest exhibited in Great Britain... It is well known that the first collection of the curiosities, natural and artificial.. was made by John Tradescant, by birth a Dutchman, who is supposed to have come to England about the end of queen Elizabeth’s, or the beginning of James the First’s reign. He was a considerable time in the service of lord treasure Salisbury and Lord Wootton. He travelled in various parts of Europe as far as Russia; was in a fleet sent against the Algerines, and collected plants in Barbary and the isles of the Mediterranean. He had a garden at Lambeth, and in the reign of Charles the First, in 1629, bore the title of the king’s gardener. He was a man of extraordinary curiosity, was the first who in this country made any considerable collection of the subjects of natural history. His son, of the same name, went to Virginia, and imported many new plants from thence. His Museum, called Tradescant’s Ark, attracted the curiosity of the age, and was much frequented by the great, by whose means it was also considerably enlarged, as appears by the list of his benefactors, printed at the end of his Museum Tradescantianum... The son inherited his collection, and bequeathed it by a deed of gift to Elias Ashmole, who lodged in Tradescant’s house. It afterwards becoming a part of the Ashmolean Museum... He was successively a solicitor in chancery, when Oxford was garrisoned by the royal army, an exciseman, a comptroller of the ordnance, a freemason, astrologer, botanist, chemist, anatomist, physician, and though last not least, a very learned herald... Ashmole enriched the Tradescant collection (which consisted chiefly of the skins and bones of animals) with a collection of medals, coins, and gold chains... and with manuscripts and printed books on heraldry and astrology, for he had purchased the library of Lilly the celebrated astrologer. The Museum has since been increased by Sir W. Dugdale’s, Anthony Wood’s, and the Aubrey manuscripts... It has also been enlarged by Martin Lister’s collections of shells and fossils, Lloyd’s, Plot’s, and Borlase’s, and other objects of natural history, and by Mr. Rheinhold Forster’s collection of the dresses and various instruments of the natives of the South Sea islands, and those of the Esquimaux Indians... It has been from time to time enriched by the valuable donations of many other benefactors, particularly by those of the Alfred gem, the large magnet, the very curious group of figures made with humming-birds’ feathers, and lately by a great portion of antiquities described in the Naemia Britannica, presented by the liberal antiquarian Sir Richard Colt Hoare’ (p. vi).
The wood-engraved title page vignette is by Orlando Jewitt after W. A. Delamotte. The frontispiece is a steel-engraved view of the museum, engraved by John Le Keux after Frederick Mackenzie. The folding engraved plate depicts the giant lodestone presented to the Museum by the Countess of Westmoreland in 1756 (unsigned).