Our historic library is a treasure trove of books about the natural world and human history. Established by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society (YPS) in 1823, it houses about 42,000 volumes dating from 16th century to the present day.
Individual books are available for research only if they available on our online catalogue, and an appointment has been made in advance with our curatorial team. Our library is usually open 10am to 4pm daily except Mondays and Thursdays. Please contact us on 01904 687687 to check opening dates before your visit.
Our library reveals an amazing part of York’s history that many people don’t know about today.
Many of its books are connected with the period when it was set up in the early 1800’s, 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 the scientists who discovered dinosaurs, built the Natural History Museum, and established the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
The first keeper of the Yorkshire Museum, John Phillips, was a brilliant scientist and nephew to the ‘father’ of English geology, William Smith. Alongside books on geology, the collection focuses on the living natural world and human history.
Its breathtaking collection of early books dates back to the 1500’s. Modern books support research and learning related to our Designated specimen collections.
You can explore some of these books via the touchscreen in the Reading Room.
Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire: …the Yorkshire Coast… by John Phillips (1829)
York’s ‘time-lord’, Phillips (1800-1874) paved the way for our modern understanding of geological time.
This book was the first scientific work on fossils of the Yorkshire coast. Many of the specimens Phillips illustrated are still housed here at the Yorkshire Museum, where he started his career.
Rare hand-coloured maps and volumes by William Smith, ‘father’ of English geology
Purchased to accompany lectures given to the YPS by Smith and Phillips and help arrange their fossil collection; some personally donated by Smith.
Our 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 organise their first meeting – hosted at the YorkshireMuseum in 1831. 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 and led to formation of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.
Fossilia hantoniensia by Gustavus Brander (1766) donated by Gideon Mantell
Mantell was one of the first scientists to discover a dinosaur. 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 Benett (1831)
Benett was one of the first women geologists and gave this book to the library along with an extensive donation of Wiltshire fossils in 1831.
Tempest Anderson’s personal library collection
Tempest Anderson (1846-1913) travelled the world from late 1880s to photograph volcanic eruptions and their aftermath. His personal library is now part of the Museum’s library.
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. It is bound in ‘vellum’ – prepared animal skin.
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, the Antiquary. It was presented to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society by the subscribers to the “Wellbeloved Memorial” in 1859.
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. Roberts’ Holy Land (1842-1849) A huge bestseller in its day – portraying ancient sites in the ‘Holy Land’ on a magnificent scale never seen before.
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