For tens of thousands of years humans have been finding ways of communicating their ideas to each other using images and written languages to represent the spoken word. From the earliest cave paintings to computers, people have sought to describe the world around them and to better understand how it works. The book format found in many bookshops has been the most enduring way of packaging up ideas, which makes them both portable and available for sharing with others. The National Trust cares for over 420,000 books in around 200 places. Each of those places has its own distinct identity, often reflected by the books within. Different owners have books for various reasons: for pleasure, for reference, in order to write down what happened during their travels, as a reflection of their personal beliefs, or as souvenirs of far-flung places. Here are just a few examples...
Cavalry manual becomes travel souvenir
There is something wonderful about opening up a hand-coloured book which has been sitting on a shelf for hundreds of years. The colours from this star atlas are still incredibly vivid after over 350 years. Designed as a companion volume to a set of atlases of the world and another of its oceans, this atlas of the heavens was a historical account of astronomical discoveries which changed perceptions of the earth’s position in the known universe. In the mid 17th century the Dutch were the greatest map-makers, producing the most accurate and up-to-date maps for travellers and book collectors. This star atlas documents the opposing views of whether the earth or the sun was at the centre of the solar system. The beautiful plates also include images of biblical events and the signs of the zodiac, all imposed upon hemispheres of the heavens. (‘Harmonia Macrocosmica’, 1661 / Blickling Hall / Catalogue reference - NT3242709)
Memories to keep
Advertising the royal shampooing surgeon
For the love of science
Mary Ward (1827-1869) is one of those rare people who are incredibly enthusiastic about their own subject but also want to share it with others. A pioneering female scientist, she wrote and illustrated books for children in an age when there were few books for children. Her 18th birthday present from loving, open-minded parents was a powerful microscope. During the 19th century colour illustrations in books were becoming cheaper and more common. You can see that the books she wrote are based on her interests and close observations of insects and plants. (‘Sketches with the Microscope’, 1857 / Castle Ward / Catalogue reference - NT3082063)
The coldest printing shop
Find out more
- 100 Books from the Libraries of the National Trust - order a copy of the book to discover more beautiful books from the National Trust's collection!
- National Trust Collections - Explore more treasures
- Blog - Discover more curious collections from around the country and much more
Read our earlier posts for more highlights from the Trust's collections:
- Astounding inventions
- Let's bake!
- The first curious collections post