Treasures of our collection

Discover some of the rare, beautiful and unusual books in our historic collection.


Isaac Newton, 'Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica' (London, 1687)

Hertford owns copies of the three earliest editions of 'Principia'. Newton’s work was influential in the development of early modern physics. It set out models for the laws of motion and gravity and how these affected the movement of planets. Our copy of the first edition from 1687 contains annotations throughout, which match with the contents of the second edition. We do not know who wrote this marginalia. It may be that someone added in the corrections of the second edition to bring this earlier copy up to date.

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Robert Hooke, 'Micrographia' (London, 1665)

Hooke’s 'Micrographia' also discussed gravity and this led to a dispute between Hooke and Newton, both members of the Royal Society, when Newton published 'Principia'. However, 'Micrographia' is best known for its very detailed images of items viewed through a microscope and for the first use of the biological term ‘cell’.

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'Hortus Sanitatis' (1517)

This fascinating herbal is one of our earlier books. As well as Latin descriptions and woodcut illustrations of plants, it also includes animals and stones. Our copy is particularly interesting because it contains notes from readers written in the 1500s. Many of these notes provide English names for the plants and animals in the pictures, but some specify when they sowed plants or saw certain animals. The dating system is unusual as it employs astrological symbols.

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Greenvile Collins, 'Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot' (London, 1693)

Covering England and Scotland, this was the first comprehensive survey of the coastlines of Britain and was designed to assist navigation by British boats. The hand-coloured engravings are also very beautiful. Collins was a hydrographer and naval captain who used his experience as a mariner to create these maps, but also called for them to be regularly updated using the experience of other sailors.

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Theodor de Bry, 'Americae Tertia Pars' (Frankfurt, 1592)

De Bry based his series of books about the Americas on paintings and descriptions from European travellers to the New World, but never visited the Americas. The engravings used by De Bry gave the indigenous people additional muscle tone reminiscent of statues from classical civilisations. The original paintings by explorer John White would probably not have been seen by the European artist who coloured the images and so figures are given pale skin and blonde and red hair.

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Thucydides, 'Eight Bookes of the Peloponnesian Warre…interpreted… by T. Hobbes' (London, 1629)

Magdalen Hall alumnus Hobbes is best known for his writings on political philosophy and realist statehood. This early work by Hobbes is the first direct translation from Greek into English of the Eight Bookes and includes a map of Greece drawn by Hobbes. Thucydides’ analysis of statehood and war are a foundation of classical realist theories in politics and international relations. Hobbes’ later works, such as Leviathan, further contributed to the development of realist theory.

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Two books from John Locke's library

Hertford owns two books from the library of John Locke, the well-known seventeenth century philosopher and bibliophile. The first of these, a compendium of works by Latin poet Claudian, was recorded in research on the content of Locke’s library some decades ago (Harrison and Laslett, 1971). However, a second work has recently been discovered in the collection – Locke’s copy of Barlaeus’ 'Brasilia' (1660). Full cataloguing of Hertford’s collection may uncover more items that belonged to Locke.

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