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Press release

World's biggest collection of work by Darwin comes to the Natural History Museum

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.

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
  • Himalayan Journals by Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin's colleague and confidante, which Hooker presented to his son, and that also contains a letter to Hooker from a young admirer
  • a rare copy of Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, bound in original cloth in three volumes
  • map of the Falkland Islands from the Beagle voyage
  • 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

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.


Notes for editors

  • Winner of the 2006 Independent award for the UK's favourite museum, gallery or heritage attraction at the Museum and Heritage Awards for Excellence, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.
  • The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) is the fund of last resort for the nation's heritage, coming to the rescue by funding emergency acquisitions. NHMF currently receives an annual income of £5million from the government. In recognition of the vital role it plays, and to help meet an increasing numbers of applications, the government will double NHMF's income to £10million from 2007. For further information about the NHMF please contact the NHMF Press Office, tel: 020 7591 6032/6102 or 07973 613820.

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