Friday, July 30, 2010

The Mark of the Hydra

An illustration of a seven-headed hydra with its mouths open.Perhaps the most remarkable beast in Rauner’s collections is the depiction of Albertus Seba’s specimen of a seven-headed hydra in his collection of natural wonders, Locupletissimi rerum naturalium (Amsterdam, 1734-65). He admits in the text to being doubtful at first, but becoming convinced that the specimen was true to nature. To a European collector reared on the classics, a seven-headed hydra brought back by sailors traveling into new worlds would probably have been less questionable than a duck-billed platypus.

Seba was one of the great collectors of all time. His first natural history collection was sold to the czar of Russia and became the seed collection for the natural history museum in St. Petersburg. With the proceeds of the sale, he assembled his second great collection cataloged here.

To see it in "real" life, ask for Rare Book QH41.S4.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Titled Title Page

A heavily engraved title page for "The Generall Historie."Who's on top here? Sometimes a title page will clue you into the ideology of a text immediately. Here, in the first edition of John Smith's The Generall Historie of Virginia (London: Michael Sparkes, 1624), we see dominion over the new lands of Virginia laid out graphically.

England's royalty are superimposed on a map of Virginia atop the page. As your eye wanders down the engraved title page, the arms of Virginia Company and the arms of the New England Company divide the map from the details of life in the new world. Across the bottom of the page there are scenes of native peoples inhabiting the newly colonized space.

Ask for McGregor 164 to see it in person in Rauner.