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To scrutinize the whole of Nature: The Royal Society and its fellows 1660-1730

Musaeum Regalis Societatis

Fossils as depicted in Nehemiah Grew's Musaeum Regalis Societatis, or, A catalogue & description of the natural and artificial rarities belonging to the Royal Society and preserved at Gresham Colledge. London: printed by W. Rawlins, for the author, 1681 [St. Thomas’s Historical Collection. FOL. QL804 GRE]Fossils as depicted in Nehemiah Grew's Musaeum Regalis Societatis, or, A catalogue & description of the natural and artificial rarities belonging to the Royal Society and preserved at Gresham Colledge. London: printed by W. Rawlins, for the author, 1681 [St. Thomas’s Historical Collection. FOL. QL804 GRE]The physician and pioneering botanist Nehemiah Grew (1641?-1712) was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1671 and became joint secretary of the Society with Robert Hooke after the death of Henry Oldenburg in 1677. His tasks included the maintenance and cataloguing of the Society’s museum, which was situated at Gresham College.

Although he was well suited for this, he did not control the acquisitions and donations policy. Therefore, the museum bore a greater resemblance to a private ‘cabinet of curiosities’, with an emphasis on the exotic and wonderful, than to the living example of the perfect scientific taxonomy to which he aspired.

In the detail of its description, however, the catalogue broke new ground. It was one of the first scientific books whose production costs were paid for entirely by subscribers; a significant outlay was needed because the book was lavishly illustrated. The illustration of fossils shown here is apt, as Grew’s colleague, Robert Hooke, took a particular interest in this subject.

This copy was owned by the anatomist Joshua Brookes (1761-1833) whose own vast collection of specimens was renowned.

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