Amgueddfa Blog: Llyfrgell

Hortus Sanitatis: an early herbal

Kristine Chapman, 22 Awst 2019

If you visit the Snakes exhibition at National Museum Cardiff (open till 15 September), you will see a 16th century book from the Library collections.


This unusual book is known as Hortus Sanitatis (although it is also written as Ortus Sanitatis) which roughly translates to ‘The Garden of Health’ in Latin. It is an early example of a herbal, a book containing descriptions of plants, along with how to prepare and use them as medicinal remedies.


It started life in 1485 as a German ‘Herbarius’, also called the Gart der Gesundheit, before an extended version, translated into Latin, was published in 1491. Unlike the German version, the new Latin version didn't just focus on plants, but also included remedies involving animals, birds, fish and minerals.


Over the next 50 years the book was published in many more editions and languages. As well as new Latin and German editions, it was also translated into Dutch and English (although often in shortened versions). The English edition is called the Noble lyfe & natures of man, of bestes, serpentys, fowles & fisshes, and was produced around 1527. All these editions indicate just how popular this book was in the 15th and 16th centuries. Perhaps it saw so many reprints because unlike most herbals of the period, it covered more than just plants. But by the 1530s it was being replaced by the herbals of the 'German Fathers of Botany', Bock, Brunfels, and Fuchs.


Our copy of Hortus Sanitatis is one of the Latin editions published in Strasburg in 1517 by Reinhard Beck. The full title is Ortus sanitatis de herbis et plantis. De animalibus et reptilibus. De avibus et volatilibus. De piscibus et natatilibus. De lapidibus et in terre venis nascentibus. Urinis et earum speciebus.


It has no known author, as was common with herbals of this period, and is heavily illustrated. The illustrations, along with the purchase of the paper for printing, would have been the most expensive part of producing the book, and so were re-used from other works. Unusually for the period, many of the woodcuts are coloured.


Our copy of this book is from the Willoughby Gardner Library, but also has a bookplate identifying it as part of the former collection of Charles Butler. Charles Butler, Esq. [1821-1910] was an English politician and collector. He held a very extensive and valuable library at Warren Wood, Hatfield, which was sold off at Sotheby’s in 1911.


It’s most likely that Willoughby Gardner purchased the book from that sale, either directly or indirectly from a rare books seller. He regularly purchased books from famous libraries, and so would have been well aware of such a significant auction.


The title page of the book also gives us a clue to a much earlier owner. Written in ink are the words ‘Monasterii Montis S. Georgii 1659’, indicating that it might have formerly been in the possession of a monastery in Austria.


The monastery of St. Georgenberg was founded on the site of a hermitage, near Stans, and held an extensive library. In the 17th century the abbot decided to reorganise it and give the books new marks of ownership, written on the first and last folios, and usually dated (most often in 1652, 1659, and 1661).


In 1850 the monastery sold a number of books from their library in order to raise money, and many of them have since ended up in public collections in the UK. It is quite likely that Charles Butler acquired Hortus Sanitatis from that sale.



Further reading;

Anderson, Frank J. An illustrated history of the herbals. New York, Columbia University Press, 1977

Arber, Agnes. Herbals: their origin and evolution, 3rd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986

Volvelles: early paper calculators

Kristine Chapman, 19 Gorffennaf 2019

Cliciwch yma am fideo Cymraeg.

A volvelle is a rotating paper ‘wheel chart’, often found in early astronomy or mathematical books.

They were constructed from a number of circles, layered over each other, and fastened together in the centre with string so that they could spin. Volvelles were typically used to make calculations or predictions.

The design was based on astrolabes, very thin engraved metal discs that when rotated in various configurations made calculations, and were often employed as navigational devices. As astrolabes were quite costly to make, the paper versions were introduced as a cheaper alternative.

We believe that volvelles came to Europe from the Arabic world during the 11th and 12th centuries in medicinal and astronomical works. In the 16th century, books describing how to construct and use your own volvelle often came with printed sheets, so that the buyer could cut up and assemble their own.

We have a number of these types of books in our Vaynor Collection of astronomical books donated to the Museum in 1939 by John Herbert James of Vaynor Cottage, near Merthyr Tydfil. Some of these books still have their volvelles intact and working!

One example is a mid-16th century copy of The Sphere by Johannes de Sacrobosco. Johannes de Sacrobosco wrote Tractatus de Sphaera or De Sphaera Mundi, meaning On the Sphere of the World, in the thirteenth century when he was teaching at the University of Paris.

It remained a standard text for students of mathematics and astronomy for centuries, which is why we have this version from 1577, revised and expanded.

In 1548 Gemma Frisius produced his version of Peter Apian’s Cosmographia, a book which had originally been published in 1524, and was said to be one of the most popular books on cosmography ever published. Apian, more commonly known as Petrus Apianus, was a mathematician, designer of sundials, and publisher of manuals for astronomical instruments from his print shop in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. He was well known for his volvelles designs which is why they are sometimes also known as "Apian wheels", and this edition of Cosmographia features a number of them, although they are in a very fragile state.

However, in a few of our Vaynor books, the owner never got around to assembling the volvelles, and instead the printed sheets were bound in at the back of the book like regular pages.

This book Quadrans Apiani astronomicus... from 1532 is also by Peter Apian, and explains the use of quadrants, scientific instruments for measuring angles or time, derived from astrolabes, and used very much by sailors for navigation.

Our copy contains printed sheets for the construction of a volvelle, all the separate sections can be cut out and then assembled. The largest piece would serve as the base, and then all the corresponding circles would all be stacked up on top of each other in order, until the smallest was on the top. Then the whole thing would be secured through the middle with string.

We’ve reproduced a set from the Quadrans book, so have a go at constructing your own volvelle by downloading and printing this worksheet. You can use a split pin to secure the circles instead of string!

Fore-edge Paintings in the Library

Kristine Chapman, 12 Ebrill 2019

Many of the books in the Library collections at the National Museum Wales have attractive decorative techniques applied to the covers or text blocks. Decoration on text blocks, the combined pages of the book inside the covers, is particularly lovely because it tends to be hidden when they are on the shelves.

The most popular examples of decorating text blocks include marbling and gilding. But one of the most interesting techniques is the one known as disappearing fore-edge painting, which was often hidden underneath the other types of decoration.

Fore-edge painting was a technique that reached the height of its popularity from the mid-17th century onwards. It was usually applied to the longest section of the text block, the one opposite the spine, the fore-edge.

Two books in our special collections feature examples of mid-19th century disappearing fore-edge paintings. They are the two volumes of the second edition of the Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke by George Wingrove Cooke, and were published in 1836.

When the book is closed you cannot see the image, only the gilt edges of the text block, but when the leaves are fanned, the hidden picture is revealed.

To achieve this effect, the artist would need to fan the pages, and then secure them in a vice, this means they are applying the paint not to the edge of the page, but to just shy of the edge. Once completed, it is released from the vice and the gilding would be applied to the edges.

Landscape scenes were the most popular for this technique, and the ones on our books show Conway Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

Very often the motivation for a fore-edge painting was a demonstration of artistic skill, so it didn’t always follow that the images were related to the text contained within the book. These two volumes of Memoirs, do not have an obvious connection to the scenes painted. Lord Bolingbroke (Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke 1678–1751) was an English politician during the reign of Queen Anne, and later George I, and is probably best known as a supporter of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, but he does not appear to have any direct association with either Conwy or Caernarfon.

The volumes were acquired for the Library in 2008 from a rare book dealer, but we don’t know enough about their history to be able to tell when the fore-edge paintings were added. The first volume contains an inscription that states that the book was a gift to a T. M. Townley from his friend Samuel Thomas Abbot on his leaving Eton in 1843. Unfortunately we don’t know anything about either the recipient or the sender, so we can’t tell if one of them was ultimately responsible for painting the books.

2019 - Y Cenhedloedd Unedig yn nodi blwyddyn ryngwladol yr elfennau cemegol

Tom Cotterell & Jennifer Protheroe-Jones, 14 Ionawr 2019

I gydnabod hyn, bydd Amgueddfa Cymru yn cynnal cyfres o flogiau misol, pob un yn trafod gwahanol elfen gemegol a’i harwyddocâd i Gymru. Cadwch lygad yn agored am y rhain trwy gydol y flwyddyn ar ein gwefan.

I ddechrau ein cyfres o flogiau, ym mis Ionawr rydym yn trafod arian.

Mae arian (symbol cemegol – Ag), rhif atomig 47, yn un o saith metel gwreiddiol alcemi a châi ei gynrychioli gan symbol y lleuad ar gynnydd. Mae arian yn fetel gwerthfawr ond ni fu erioed mor werthfawr ag aur.

Mae arian wedi chwarae rhan bwysig yn hanes Cymru ond nid yw hyn yn cael llawer o sylw. Yn rhan fwyaf gogleddol Ceredigion, ger pentref Goginan, mae nifer o hen fwyngloddiau a fu ymhlith cynhyrchwyr arian mwyaf toreithiog Ynysoedd Prydain. Mae bron yn sicr bod y Rhufeiniaid wedi darganfod y gwythiennau o fwynau llawn metelau yn y ddaear, ond y Frenhines Elisabeth I oedd yn gyfrifol am eu datblygu fel mwyngloddiau arian.

Dywed rhai mai Thomas Smythe, Prif Swyddog Tollau Porthladd Llundain a ddarganfu’r swm sylweddol cyntaf o arian ym mwynglawdd Cwmsymlog ym 1583. Mae’n llawer mwy tebygol mai Ulrich Frosse, peiriannydd mwyngloddio o’r Almaen a wnaeth y darganfyddiad a rhoi gwybod i Smythe. Roedd ganddo ef brofiad o gloddio am arian ac ymwelodd â’r mwynglawdd tua'r un pryd â Smythe. Yn ystod teyrnasiad Elisabeth I, amcangyfrifir bod pedair tunnell o arian wedi’i gloddio o fwyngloddiau Ceredigion.

Gwnaeth y Brenin J I a’r Brenin Siarl I elw sylweddol o’r mwyngloddiau (cynhyrchwyd 7 tunnell yn nheyrnasiad y naill a 100 tunnell yn nheyrnasiad y llall). Yn wir, ym 1638, penderfynodd Siarl I sefydlu bathdy yng Nghastell Aberystwyth gerllaw. Oherwydd ei lwyddiant, cafodd ei ddinistrio gan Oliver Cromwell a’r Seneddwyr yn ystod Rhyfel Cartref Lloegr ym 1646.

Mae gan Amgueddfa Cymru enghreifftiau o’r llu o ddarnau arian bath wedi’u gwneud o arian a fathwyd yn Aberystwyth. Un peth sy’n nodweddiadol ohonynt yw’r tair pluen ar y naill ochr a’r llall. Mae nod y llyfr bychan agored ar y darnau’n dangos mai Thomas Bushell a gafodd yr arian o fwyngloddiau Ceredigion a ran y Company of Mines Royal.

Mae'r mapiau a'r planiau a gynhyrchwyd i farchnata'r mwyngloddiau arian i fuddsoddwyr ymhlith y rhai cynharaf i'w cynhyrchu ym Mhrydain. Yn Llyfrgell Amgueddfa Cymru, mae sawl fersiwn o fapiau William Waller a gynhyrchwyd ar gyfer y Company of Mine Adventurers ym 1693 a 1704 ynghyd â Fodinae Regales Syr John Pettus a gyhoeddwyd ym 1670.

Cafodd un o’r mwyngloddiau, Bwlch yr Esgair Hir, ei frolio fel Potosi Cymru a defnyddiwyd peth o’r arian a gloddiwyd yno i wneud jwg ddŵr ac arni'r arysgrif ‘The Mines of Bwlch-yr-Eskir-hir’, tua 1692. Fodd bynnag, methiant oedd y mwynglawdd. Ni chynhyrchwyd cymaint o arian â’r disgwyl erioed ond problem ddaearegol oedd hyn yn hytrach na diffyg yn y dulliau cloddio. Efallai bod y safle’n fwyaf adnabyddus am ei ran mewn achos cyfreithiol yn erbyn rheolaeth y Goron dros fetelau gwerthfawr. Dygwyd yr achos gan y tirfeddiannwr Syr Carbery Pryse yn 1693 a rhoddodd derfyn ar ormes y Mines Royal.

Parhawyd i fwyngloddio arian mewn modd cynhyrchiol yng ngogledd Ceredigion, yn gyntaf o dan y Company of Mine Adventurers ac yna, trwy gydol y Chwyldro Diwydiannol, gan nifer o gwmnïau preifat. Cynhyrchwyd cyfanswm o dros 150 tunnell o fetel arian yn y rhan hon o Gymru.

Yn rhyfedd iawn, cymerodd tan y 1980au i ddaearegwyr adnabod y mwyn sy’n gyfrifol am fod cymaint o arian yr y rhan fechan hon o Gymru. Ei enw yw tetrahedrit – mwyn yn cynnwys copr, sinc, haearn ac antimoni sylffid – ac mae arian yn gallu cymryd lle peth o’r copr, y sinc a’r haearn sydd ynddo. Cofnodwyd bod hyd at 18%, yn ôl pwysau, o’r tetrahedrit o fwynglawdd Esgair Hir yn arian. Mae sbesimenau pwysig o fwynau a ddefnyddiwyd i adnabod y tetrahedrit yn cael eu cadw yn ein casgliadau daearegol yn yr Amgueddfa.

Nid oes metel arian naturiol yn weladwy yn yr un o fwyngloddiau Cymru ond mae rhai o’r enghreifftiau gorau yn y byd gan yr Amgueddfa yn ei chasgliad o fwynau. Mae’r sbesimenau, o fwynglawdd Kongsberg yn Norwy, o ansawdd eithriadol a chawsant eu caffael yn yr 1980au fel rhan o gasgliad R. J. King.


Museums Association Conference of 1948 at National Museum Cardiff

Jennifer Evans, 12 Gorffennaf 2018

The Museums Association Conference of 1948 was held at National Museum Cardiff over five days, running from July 12th to the 16th. All conference meetings were held in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, while an area within the Zoology Department was used as Association Office, Writing Room and Smoke Room.

We know the majority of host duties would have been carried out by Frederick J. North, who was Keeper of Geology and Archibald H. Lee, Museum Secretary, because they are listed on the programme as Honorary Local Secretaries. It is most likely we have them to thank for the ephemera held in the Library, including copies of the programme, associate and staff badges, reception invites, day trip tickets and the official group photograph, taken on the steps of the Museum.

The first day of the conference began with registration, followed by a Council meeting and visit to Cardiff Castle and a reception at the South Wales Institute of Engineers in the evening. The programme states this event as requiring Morning dress code which, during this time period would be a three piece suit for the men, and smart day dresses for the women, or general smart clothing suitable for formal social events.

The second day began with official welcomes by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Alderman R. G. Robinson, and the President of the National Museum Wales, Sir Leonard Twiston-Davies. This was followed by a number of papers read by delegates [all fully listed in the programme], gathering for the official conference photograph, and a Civic Reception at City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor [with refreshments, music and dancing].

1948 was the year that St Fagans National Museum of History was first opened to the public as the St Fagans Folk Museum and to mark this, a visit was arranged for the afternoon of day three. St Fagans Castle, gardens, and grounds had been given to the National Museum Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946 and over the next two years extensive work had been carried out to make it suitable to open to the public. According to the 1950 St Fagans guide book, in the Castle, new central heating, electric lighting, and fire appliances had to be installed along with a tickets office, refreshment room and public amenities. By 1948 our delegates would have had access to the Castle and its newly refurbished historic interiors such as the kitchen with two 16th century fireplaces, the Hall furnished in 17th century style, 17th and 18th century bedrooms and the early 19th century Library. They would also have enjoyed walking the gardens which included a mulberry grove, herb and rose gardens, vinery, fishponds, and flower-house interspersed with bronze sculptures by Sir William Goscombe John. Onsite also were a traditional wood-turner and a basket-maker, creating and selling their wares. The handbook also describes a delightful sounding small tea room with curtains made at the Holywell Textile Mills and watercolour paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn. However, according to a Western Mail clipping, this didn’t open to the public until some weeks later on August 24th. Presumably a room within the Castle itself was used for the delegates’ buffet tea to which they were treated after being greeted by the Curator of St Fagans, Dr Iorwerth Peate.

Interestingly the programme provides times of the train service that ran from Cardiff Central Station to St Fagans. Sadly, the station at St Fagans is no longer there, the service being withdrawn in 1962, although a signal box and level crossing on the line remain.

The Annual General Meeting, Council Meeting and Federation of Officers Meeting  were all held on the next day along with more papers, including one by Mr Duncan Guthrie [of the Arts Council], on the upcoming “Festival of Britain, 1951”. There was also an evening reception in the Museum hosted by the President, and the then Director [Sir Cyril Fox], with refreshments and music by the City of Cardiff High School for Girls Orchestra. The programme states evening dress if possible for this event so it’s a shame we don’t hold any photographs of what would have been a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns.

The final day consisted of further papers in the morning followed by escape and fresh air with visits to the Newport Corporation Museum and the Legionary Museum and Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon during the afternoon.

The September 1948 issue of Museums Journal contains a full report on the conference, with detailed examination of all papers presented and the discussions they generated. It also lists the delegates including those from overseas. The report concludes with thanks to the National Museum Cardiff for the welcome and hospitality accorded to the 240 delegates, with special mention to North and Lee [who would certainly have earned their salaries over those five days!].