Rare Books from the National Museum Wales Library

This post has been published on behalf of Kristine Chapman, Principal Librarian at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. 

Although I am not an archaeologist, I often work closely with staff in the Archaeology Department here at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, as I am the Museum Librarian.

The Main Library at Amgueddfa Cymru

The Museum Library was created right after the founding of the Museum in 1907. There was a Librarian in place before there was a Museum building, that’s how important it was to the first curators!

Much of my work consists of making sure staff have access to the resources they need. Most of the books that make up the Archaeology Library reside in the Archaeology Department, which means they are closer to people who need them. The walls of the curator’s offices are lined with books, and they consult them on a daily basis.

Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections of British Archaeological Reports (BARs)

However, we also have a number of rare books that are kept in the Main Library, a room originally built in the 1920s. Whenever we have Open Days, we get out a few examples to show visitors. A recent favourite was Nenia Britannica: or, a sepulchral history of Great Britain; from the earliest period to its general conversion to Christianity (1793) by Rev. James Douglas (1753-1819). Its popularity is due to the stunning aquatint illustrations that depict discoveries at barrow excavations.

Title page from Nenia Britannica (left) and Plate from Nenia Britannica showing a human skeleton in a grave (right)

When it was first published, Nenia Britannica was not that well received, it was considered too scientific. Later it was recognised as significant, because of the way Douglas systematically illustrated and recorded the artefacts.

Another favourite is Itinerarium Curiousum, or, an account of the antiquitys and remarkable curiositys in nature or art: observ’d in travels thro’ Great Brittan (1724), by William Stukeley (1687 – 1765). Stukeley recorded and collected objects, during journeys around England. Those observations formed the basis of this book.

Title page and frontispiece from Itinerarium Curiousum

Although not as well-known as his later publication on Stonehenge, it is important to us because it was donated by George Boon, who was a member of our Archaeology Department from 1957-87, first as Assistant Keeper, and then as Keeper.

Recently we have been taking a closer look at Mona Antiqua Restaurata: an archaeological discourse on the antiquities, natural and historical, of the Isle of Anglesey, the antient seat of the British Druids (1723) by Henry Rowlands (1655–1723) because the Eisteddfod will be in Anglesey this summer.

Title page from Mona Antiqua Restaurata

The author lived on Anglesey, and spent much of his time investigating nearby stone circles, and Prehistoric remains. His investigations led him to conclude that Anglesey (Mona) was the ancient centre of Druidic worship, and did much to popularise interest in Druid culture.

Image of a Druid from Mona Antiqua Restaurata

Over time some of his conclusions were shown to be inaccurate, but his descriptions and drawings of the sites of ancient monuments still hold merit, and we are looking forward to showcasing his image of a Druid at the Eisteddfod.

You can learn more about the work we do in the Library on the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales blog, or you can follow us (@Amgueddfa_Lib) on Twitter.