MV Blog


Rare Book Discovery Day

by Hayley
Publish date
23 July 2013
Comments (1)

On Saturday 20 July, four antiquarian booksellers and the museum's paper conservator joined forces to provide a free valuation and conservation service to the public as part of Melbourne Rare Book Week 2013. Peter Arnold (Peter Arnold Antiquarian Booksellers), Justin Healy (Grub Street Bookshop), Stuart Kells (Books of Kells) and Douglas Stewart (Douglas Stewart Fine Books) spent three hours assessing inherited or collected items for their market value. Paper Conservator Belinda Gourley spoke to visitors about appropriate storage and care of old or rare books.

It was interesting to see the variety of material that visitors brought along, which ranged from a Walter Scott novel to an early nineteenth century musical notation book.

Three women looking at a book Conservator Belinda Gourley provides some storage and care advice for a musical notation book dating from 1804.
Image: Hayley Webster
Source: Museum Victoria

The find of the day was a 1907 exhibition catalogue of women's work held at the Royal Exhibition Building.

Women's Work catalogue 1907 catalogue of women's work
Source: Kay Craddock

This was of particular interest to library staff, as our Rare Book Collection includes a range of exhibition catalogues relating to exhibitions held at the Royal Exhibition Building. We also took the chance to show off a couple of items from our own rare book collection, including the very rare A Monograph of the Psittacidae or Parrot Family of Australia, which is held by only two libraries worldwide.

Three people looking at rare book Library Manager Leonie Cash displaying Monograph of the Psittacidae or Parrot Family of Australia by Rev. J. J. Halley to booksellers Peter Arnold and Justin Healy.
Image: Hayley Webster
Source: Museum Victoria

The event was great fun, and it was fantastic to participate in the second Melbourne Rare Book Week. Thanks to everyone who attended!


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View digitised plates from A Monograph of the Psittacidae or Parrot Family of Australia on the Google Art Project

John Abbot’s Lepidoptera

by Hayley
Publish date
8 March 2013
Comments (1)

The MV Library holds an important collection of 18th and 19th century scientific literature. Many of these books began as working tools for early museum curators studying the local fauna. Now, they form part of our rare book collection and are prized for their beauty and rarity.

The library's collection has an interesting history, forming from the amalgamation of two specialist collections from the National Museum of Victoria and Science Museum. Books have been purchased since the earliest days of the National Museum of Victoria, when the first director, Frederick McCoy, acquired important titles such as the entomological works of Maria Sybilla Merian.

While the library collection at MV is relatively small, it is also surprisingly unique. Library staff are currently working to identify titles unique to Australian libraries, a project which has exposed some real gems in the collection, such as John Abbot’s The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia (1797).

Tab V, ‘American Brimstone Butterfly’ Tab V, ‘American Brimstone Butterfly’ via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Abbot left his native England in 1773 for the colony of Virginia in North America, in order to procure specimens and make drawings of the local insects. Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, Abbot moved to Georgia, where he spent the rest of his life recording the local insects and birds.

Tab XLIX, ‘Corn Emperor Moth’ Tab XLIX, ‘Corn Emperor Moth’ via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Although he was a prolific natural history artist and well regarded in his lifetime, Abbot is not as well remembered as some of his contemporaries, who included famous naturalists such as John James Audubon. While he is thought to have created four to five thousand watercolours, most of them were unpublished or uncredited during his lifetime.

The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia includes 104 hand-coloured plates by John Harris, after original artwork by John Abbot. It's an important early work to depict North American butterflies and moths, and has been appreciated by scientists and collectors alike for its accuracy as well as its beauty. The introduction was written by James Edward Smith, a founder of The Linnean Society of London.

While it is exciting to encounter rare material in our collection, it is also nice to be able to share it. Luckily, the work has been digitised and is now freely accessible through the Biodiversity Heritage Library, so have a browse online or download your own copy of this rare work!


Gilbert, P. & Hamilton, C., Entomology: A Guide to Information Sources, London & New York: Mansell, 1990.

Gilbert, P., John Abbot: Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders, London: Merrell Holberton and Natural History Museum, 1998.

Job, Frank, “The Library of Museum Victoria” in Rasmussen, C. (ed.), A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and its Predecessors, 1854-2000, Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe Publications, 2001.

Rogers-Price, Vivian & Griffin, William W., "John Abbot: Pioneer-Naturalist of Georgia," Magazine Antiques (October 1983): 768-75.

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.