The largest, most comprehensive collection of books 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.
At £985,000, it 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.
'This acquisition makes the Museum the ultimate Darwin resource,' said Richard Lane, Science Director at the Natural History 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.'
Carole Souter, Director of the National Heritage Memorial Fund said, 'Charles Darwin's importance in the development of science is unquestioned. His role in our understanding of the workings of nature continues to this day. We are delighted to have helped save this outstanding collection for the nation.'
The collection joins the many Darwin specimens already held by the Museum, including those he collected during the famous Beagle voyage. Bringing together the books and specimens will enable scientists to build their understanding of how these specimens were collected and studied. The Kohler Darwin Collection also adds to the Museum's existing library of books by Darwin's contemporaries, such as naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, forming an extraordinary resource on the theory of evolution.
Assembled over 20 years, the Kohler Darwin Collection comprises almost 3,500 items in total. There are copies of almost all editions, issues and bindings of Darwin's publications, including a wide foreign language selection. These are complemented by a number of autographed letters by Darwin and his peers, and a range of other printed and original material that traces the growth of our understanding of evolution through the twentieth century.
Antiquarian booksellers Chris and Michèle Kohler pieced the collection together with more than 1,200 purchases. 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.
'Darwin constantly reworked his ideas, and these continual changes can only be seen if all the books are in one place,' said Chris Kohler. 'After investing two decades assembling this vast collection, we are delighted it will be accessible to study far into the future.'
Over the next three years the collection will be catalogued, conserved and re-housed. During this time it will be available to visiting researchers at the Museum. Items from the collection will form a part of the Darwin exhibition the Museum is hosting in autumn 2008.
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