Skip navigation

The NaturePlus Forums will be offline from mid August 2018. The content has been saved and it will always be possible to see and refer to archived posts, but not to post new items. This decision has been made in light of technical problems with the forum, which cannot be fixed or upgraded.

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the very great success of the forums and to the community spirit there. We plan to create new community features and services in the future so please watch this space for developments in this area. In the meantime if you have any questions then please email:

Fossil enquiries:
Life Sciences & Mineralogy enquiries:
Commercial enquiries:




It seems extraordinary now, but if you had entered a lottery in 1786, you might have won a whole museum. The tickets were priced at one guinea each, and the museum up for grabs was that of Sir Ashton Lever, collector of natural history and ethnographical specimens.


The museum was based in Leicester Square, London, and contained approximately 27,000 items. Leicester House, a large mansion, cost Lever £600 a year to lease, and when it opened in February 1775 he charged visitors half a guinea to enter, a large sum at the time. Despite the cost, the Leverian Museum proved popular. Those who visited found sixteen rooms of specimens interspersed with corridors lined with cases containing even more items. One room was separate and was billed as containing “very curious monkies and monsters”; ladies were warned that they may not have wished to enter for fear of being disgusted. As well as the specimens, there was a library containing books on natural history. Interestingly, advertisements at the time specify that good fires were to be found in the galleries – not something that one would expect to find in museums now!





As well as the general public, artists and natural historians of the time came to draw and study the exhibitions. Lever added to the collections frequently, stocking the cases with zoological and ethnographical items brought back from expeditions such as those of Captain Cook, from exotic locations such as the Americas, Africa and the Far East.



[Image above] – “Bird display. A perspective view of the grand saloon and gallery [of the Leverian Museum] from A Companion to the [British] Museum (1790) by Sir Ashton Lever.” NHM Picture Library Ref 036756







Sarah Stone (ca.1760-1844), the daughter of a fan painter, began painting at the museum in the late 1770s. Her baptism certificate has not been found, so the precise date of her birth is unknown.  She came to the attention of Lever and was commissioned by him to formally record specimens. Her artwork is considered of great importance as it gives some idea of the species collected by explorers and of the long-since demolished museum. Some of the animals she painted are now extinct, or have endangered populations.


The Library at the Natural History Museum has a large collection of Stone’s watercolours. Many of the known paintings and drawings in existence (over 900 in total) are of birds, such as the image above of a mandarin duck, Aix galericulata.


Stone’s use of colour and shadow, delicate brushwork and faithful representation of her subjects made her work distinctive and admirable at the time. Although these qualities are still prized, some of her drawings can look ‘stiff’ to modern eyes. In particular, the sloth on the left in the picture below looks incapable of climbing its branch. However, this may also be the fault of the taxidermy techniques of the period.


[Image on right]   “Mandarin duck, Aix galericulata. Sarah Stone, 1788.” NHM Picture Library Ref 024290





So who did win the museum? For five weeks after the lottery, no-one knew. Finally James Parkinson, a barrister, came forward to claim his winnings. The chosen ticket had belonged to his late wife and he had only come across it when sorting through her estate.


He owned the museum for twenty years, though kept the ‘Leverian’ name, and oversaw a move to a different site in Albion Place, south of Blackfriars Bridge. Most of Stone’s drawings are dated to before Parkinson took over the museum. In 1806, the collections were broken up and sold at auctions lasting for sixty five days (excluding Sundays and the King’s birthday). Interestingly, two of the lots were Stone’s own watercolours of the specimens.


The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) webpage hosts some books which contain paintings by Sarah Stone. Some examples are here:



You can also see more of Sarah Stone’s artwork in the forthcoming Images of Nature Gallery exhibition on women artists, which will be on display the Museum from March 2014 and is accompanied by a book by Special Collections Librarian Andrea Hart. Keep a look out for forthcoming blogs providing more information about the new exhibition next month and then throughout 2014/2015.




Jackson, C.E. (1998). Sarah Stone: Natural Curiosities from the New Worlds. London: Merrell Publishers Ltd.


[Image below] – “Pale-throated three-toed sloth, Bradypus tridactylus. Sarah Stone, c. 1781-1785.” NHM Picture Library Ref 024334




Le cheval: extérieur: régions, pied, proportions, aplombs, allures, age, aptitudes, robes, tares, vices, vente et achat, examen des oeuvres d'art équestre, etc. Structure et fonctions: situation, rapports, structure anatomique et rôle physiologique de chaque organe. Races: origine, divisions, caractères, production et amélioration : XVI planches coloriées, découpées et superposées [The horse…]


Texte par Eugène Alix, dessins d'après nature par Édouard Cuyer [Text by Eugène Alix, drawings from nature by Édouard Cuyer]
Paris: J.B. Baillière,1886.


Whilst taking part in a barcoding project in late 2012, I was lucky enough to come across this beautiful and detailed French book. It is in two volumes: the text, and an ‘atlas’ {volume of illustrations}. Although the primary author is listed as Eugéne Alix, the drawings in the atlas were made by Édouard Cuyer. As I was barcoding ‘my’ section – the quarto (larger than a paperback novel, smaller than an atlas of maps) zoological monographs, I had the pleasure of seeing many handsome books, and many more plates and drawings. However, despite a very plain cover, this one stood out, not just because of the especially long title, but also because of what I found inside …a model horse! But it’s definitely designed for adults rather than children: if you’re squeamish, look away now.


Although there are a number of technical line drawings of horse physiology in the text, it was the colour illustrations in the atlas that really stood out. There are 16 plates with movable flaps, and a pocket at the back containing a model, movable, jointed paper horse, with templates. These allow the reader to accurately move the horse’s body, head and limbs so that they occupy the positions used when a horse is cantering, galloping, walking and so on. I confess I spent longer than usual barcoding this book – I couldn’t resist having a go…



Picture 1. Planche VII, Tête [Head]. Fig.1. Squelette de la tête. Face antérieure. Fig. 2. Tête, face latérale [Skeleton of the head . Anterior side, Head, lateral side.] {Eleven flaps}




Picture 2. Planche IX, Tronc et Cavité Thoracique – Face Latéral [Trunk and thoracic cavity – lateral side]. {Nine flaps}


The plates themselves are astonishingly detailed. For example, one shows all the structures in the neck: by lifting up a series of flaps, one can navigate from the skin of the animal, to the various muscles and tendons, to the blood vessels, and finally the spinal cord – this is shown in the first picture above. In total, we counted eleven flaps on this plate alone. Even the inside of the flaps have been coloured.


There are eight templates for the model horse, ranging from Amble to Galop [Gallop]. These have a slit cut into the top edge, so that each may be slid up behind the horse, and the body then positioned according to the template marks. Sadly the horse is missing a hoof (the ‘green’ one!), but we have flagged this up and our paper conservator will be examining the volumes for damage and carrying out repairs in the near future. In the meantime, we have updated the catalogue record to make sure that the illustrations and plates are fully described. In addition, the book has been re-classified taking into account its fragility and interest.


Picture 3. Planche V,. Allures du Cheval. La planche VI et ses huit annexes n’ont pas été intercalés dans l’Atlas pour en rendre le maniement plus facile et pour permettre d’exécuter commodément les diverses allures. On les trouvera la poche cartonnage de la couverture. [Horse gaits. Plate VI and eight annexes have not been inserted in the Atlas to make handling easier and to allow various gaits to be performed conveniently. They are found in the cardboard cover pocket.]




Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out much information about the book or its creators. The plates are referenced as being “del (et pinx)” [delineated and painted] by Cuyer, although Imp. [printing imprint] was carried out by Lemercier & Cle Paris. It was published by J.B. Bailliére & Fils [J.B.Balliere and son(s)]. However, we do know that although pop-up books are usually thought of as intended for children, the earliest known books were expensive teaching tools for adults – as this one clearly is.