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World's biggest Darwin collection comes to Museum

08 June 2006

The world's largest collection of works by and about Charles Darwin has been bought by the Natural History Museum.

Known as the Kohler Darwin Collection, it includes almost everything Darwin published from 1829 onwards, including the first edition of On the Origin of Species detailing Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Richard Lane looks at a book in the Kohler Darwin Collection.

Richard Lane looks at a book in the Kohler Darwin Collection.

'This acquisition makes the Museum the ultimate Darwin resource,' said Richard Lane, Science Director at the Museum.

'Darwin brought about a revolution in how humans think about themselves and the natural world. Combining this collection with our existing holdings gives us an unprecedented insight into how the theory of evolution developed, and how Darwin worked.'

Highlights of the collection include:

  • first edition of On the Origin of Species presentation copy and the accompanying handwritten letter Darwin sent to W B Tegetmeier, a poultry expert, pigeon fancier and naturalist who helped Darwin with his studies
  • a rare copy of Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, bound in original cloth in three volumes
  • 470 different editions of On the Origin of Species in 28 languages plus Braille, which is more editions than have ever previously been brought together
Close up of Darwin's handwriting and copies of On the Origin of Species

Close up of Darwin's handwriting and copies of On the Origin of Species.

Antiquarian booksellers Chris and Michele Kohler pieced the collection together over 20 years. Initially a small collection of evolution books, it developed into a mission to assemble the greatest ever Darwin collection. The books occupied four rooms in their home before being bought by the Museum.

The Kohler Darwin Collection joins the many Darwin specimens already held by the Museum as well as a library of books by Darwin's contemporaries, such as naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Together they form an extraordinary resource on the theory of evolution.

At £985,000, the Kohler Darwin Collection is the biggest collection purchase in the Museum's 125-year history, made possible through a grant of £712,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, as well as contributions from individual donors, trusts and charities.

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