Rare and historic botany books, bequeathed to the Hertfordshire Natural History Society more than a century ago, went on display for a few hours at University College London (UCL) on July 30.

The volumes that were included in a 'pop-up' exhibition organised by the college library date back to the early 16th century. They included De Historia Stirpium by Leonhart Fuchs, published in Switzerland in 1542 where the full-page woodblock illustrations of plants used in herbal medicine have been painstakingly coloured by hand. Also on show was a superb volume from William Curtis's Flora Londoniensis, published between 1777 and 1798, where the copper engraved plates are also hand-coloured.

The UCL library has housed more than 700 books belonging to the HNHS since an agreement reached in 1935.  At the heart of the collection are 400 historic volumes bequeathed to the Society in 1881 by a committee member, Alfred Reginald Pryor, whose Flora of Hertfordshire (included in the UCL exhibition) was published after his death. The oldest publication dates from the late 15th century and – like other rare books in the collection – has to be kept in careful, climate-controlled conditions. 

Introducing the exhibition, the UCL's Head of Rare Books, Erika Delbecque (pictured left talking to HNHS Chair, Agneta Burton), hoped that better future use can be made of the collection by researchers, teachers and others interested in the history of botanical science. It is intended to include an illustrated article about the books in a future edition of the Hertfordshire Naturalist.

HNHS members might, meanwhile, like to note that the deposit agreement with the UCL Library, entitles them to obtain a reader's pass, giving them access the college library as whole. Contact David Utting for further information.