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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - Library and Archives

Address. Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AE
Telephone. (020) 8332-5414
Fax. (020) 8332-5430
e-mail. [librarian@rbgkew.org.uk]
Internet. http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/welcome.html

Governing body or responsible institution. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Functions. Research library.
Subjects. Plant and fungal systematics, evolution and distribution; anatomy, genetics and molecular biology, biochemistry; uses, horticulture including micropropagation and seed storage; and conservation.

Access. Available to bona fide researchers, and visits by appointment only; letter of request required before arrival. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Closed public holidays.
Special facilities. Microform reader-printer; advice on using the collection; photocopying and photography, subject to preservation and copyright status.
Travel directions. Actually located in the Herbarium building of Kew Green. Nearest underground station: Kew Gardens (District Line, Richmond Branch). Nearest surface rail stations: Kew Gardens (the North London Line); Kew Bridge (from Waterloo). Bus routes: 65 Kingston to Ealing; 391 Richmond to Fulham. - Parking on Kew Green.


1.1 The gardens were founded in 1759, their botanical work being supported by the private libraries of Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales (1719-1792), John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), and William Aiton (1731-1793). George III amalgamated the Gardens of Richmond Lodge and Kew House, and they became a government responsibility in 1841. From 1903 to 1984, the Gardens formed part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In 1984, under the National Heritage Act 1983, they were placed under the management of a Board of Trustees appointed by the Minister.

1.2 As an essential resource for the work of the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Kew, the present library was established in 1852. The nucleus of the book collection was the gift, in 1852, of c. 600 vols from the library of William Arnold Bromfield (1801-1852), which included many works of the older botanists. In 1854 a herbarium and a collection of c. 1,000 books were presented by George Bentham (1800-1884) to the library. Bentham had collected these books while preparing the Genera Plantarum together with Sir William Hooker (1785-1865), the first director of the Gardens. In 1867 Hooker's library of c. 4,000 vols was acquired together with his manuscripts and herbarium. This collection was especially rich in finely illustrated works and formed the nucleus of the Travel Collection. Another gift came from John Ball (1819-1889) FRS, first President of the Alpine Club, who contributed a collection rich in continental works. Other donors included Thomas Hanbury (1832-1907), Norman Douglas Simpson (1890-1974) and the Bentham-Moxon Trust, which had provided funds for the acquisition of books since 1880.

1.3 The library has many long-standing exchange arrangements with libraries in German-speaking countries, which have been of great assistance in acquiring German-language material. The library's international activities include the recent founding of the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group, and participation in the Council for Botanical and Horticultural Libraries in North America, in the Society for the History of Natural History etc. Since 1995 the Library and Archives are part of Kew Garden's Information Services Department, set up in 1995. It is among the finest botanical libraries in the world.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The printed collections comprise about 130,000 monographs, 4,000 periodicals (1,600 current), 140,000 pamphlets, 11,000 sheet-maps, 10,000 microforms, 175,000 illustrations and portraits. C. 7,000 books are pre-1851, mostly in special collections, but many 1801 to 1850 works are in the general collection. The collection contains materials in about 95 languages, the most frequent of which are English, Latin, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese. The number of German-language and German-printed (Latin) volumes printed before 1901 cannot be given with certainty, but may be in the region of 1,500-2,000 items. The computer catalogue does not record the language of each item, but there are 729 records in the catalogue for books on the floras and gardens of Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and many others in German on plant systematics, anatomy etc. To these must be added all botanical works written in Latin published in the German-speaking areas. In the following description only groups with substantial holdings of German imprints are discussed.

Sylvia FitzGerald

Subject Outline

Plant systems

2.2 Among the different plant systems Linnaeus's works (c. 250 editions) are of course the most numerous. There are several 18th-century editions printed in Germany, all in Latin, as the Systemata plantarum ...ed. J. J. Reichard (Frankfurt 1779-1780) or the Systemata vegetabilium (15 vols, Nuremberg 1777-1788), as well as several 19th-century editions. Of the post-Linnean systems Stephan Friedrich Ladislaus Endlicher's Genera plantarum (Vienna 1836-1841) deserves mention. There are 15 other titles by this author in the collection.

2.3 Phanerogamia are the most extensive group of the plant systems. Among the 18th-century publications is Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin, Oxalis (Vienna 1794). Jacquin, Professor of Botany at Vienna University, the author of numerous works, 19 of which are in the RBG collection. 19th-century literature includes Christian Schkuhr, Beschreibung und Abbildung ...der ...Arten von Riedgräsern (Wittenberg 1801; 5 other titles by this author). A famous 19th-century example is Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, Historia naturalis palmarum (Leipzig 1823-1853), based on the author's collections made in Brazil between 1817 to 1820. Finally, Friedrich Lessing's Synopsis generum Compositarum (Berlin 1832) and Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck's Systema Laurinarum (Berlin 1836) and Plantarum Laurinarum ...expositio (Breslau 1833) should be noted here. The library holds more than 20 works by Nees von Esenbeck, one of the best-known German authors on botany.

Floras collection

2.4 The library is especially strong in this field. There are 729 records for books on floras and gardens of the German-speaking countries, to which German floras on other European and non-European countries have to be added. Floras dealing with German areas are of course most numerous (c. 200 printed before 1900), starting with Basilius Besler's Hortus Eystettensis (Altdorf 1613). Other examples are Carl Sigismund Kunth, Flora Berolinensis (Berlin 1813), Johann Christian Gottlob Baumgarten, Flora Lipsiensis (Leipzig 1790) or Paul Friedrich August Ascherson, Flora der Provinz Brandenburg (Berlin [1860]-1864). Floras from Switzerland which were probably donated by John Ball (see above 1.2) are well represented, e.g. Caspar Tobias Zollikofer, Versuch einer Alpen-Flora der Schweiz in Abbildungen auf Stein, nach der Natur gezeichnet (St. Gallen [1828]) or works by Gottlieb Wilhelm Bischoff, Albrecht von Haller or Oswald Heer. Of Austrian floras, works by Heinrich Johann Nepomuk von Crantz (Wien 1769), Nicolaus Thomas Host (Wien 1827-1831) or Friedrich Wimmer (Breslau 1841) may be mentioned here, as well as Nicolaus Joseph von Jacquin's Florae Austriacae, sive plantarum selectarum ...icones (Vienna 1773-1778).

2.5 There is a great number of works in German among European floras, especially from countries which formerly belonged to the Austrian Empire. Ladislav Celakovsky's Prodromus der Flora von Böhmen (Prague 1867-1881) stands for Bohemia as does Pflanzen und Gebirgsarten von Marienbad, gesammelt ...von C. J. Heidler (Prague 1837), which was based on studies by Friedrich August II and Goethe. Other countries represented are Poland, Hungary, Slavonia, Romania (Philipp Johann F. Schur, Enumeratio plantarum Transsilvaniae, Vienna 1866), Albania, Dalmatia, Bulgaria or Greece. Floras dealing with Europe in general were written e.g. by Johann Nepomuk von Laicharding (Vegetabilia Europaea, Innsbruck 1790-1791), Heinrich Gottlieb L. Reichenbach and Alois Sterler.

2.6 Floras dealing with other parts of the world are numerous, too, e.g. David Nathanael F. Dietrich, Flora universalis in colorirten Abbildungen ... (Jena [1832], 1854-[1856]). The catalogue lists works for Russia (Eduard August von Regel and Ferdinand Gottfried T. von Herder, Reisen in den Süden von Ost-Sibirien 1855-1859, published as part of Acta Horti Petropolensis), Japan (several items by Philipp Franz von Siebold), Asia (Otto Warburg, Die Flora des asiatischen Monsungebietes, Leipzig 1890) including Ceylon (Johann Friedrich Klotzsch et al., Die Botanischen Ergebnisse der Reise ...des Prinzen Waldemar von Preussen ...auf Ceylon, dem Himalaya und auch Grenzen von Tibet, Berlin 1862). Among the floras dealing with America those relating to Brazil are best represented, e.g. 6 items by Carl Philipp von Martius (among them Flora Brasiliensis, Leipzig 1840-1906) or Johann Christian Mihan, Delectus florae et faunae brasiliensis (Vienna 1820). Other well-known examples of American floras are Verzeichnis der Pflanzen welche der Prinz Maximilian von Wied von seiner Reise am oberen Missouri mit zurückbrachte (Koblenz 1841) or Nova genera et species plantarum (Paris [1816]-1825) by Aimé Bonpland, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Sigismund Kunth.


2.7 This part of the collections covers works on algæ, ferns, mosses and fungi. Examples are Friedrich Wilhelm Weis, Plantae cryptogamicae florae Gottingensis (Göttingen 1770) or Ludwig Rabenhorst, Kryptogamen-Flora von Sachsen, der Ober-Lausitz, Thüringen und Nordböhmen (Leipzig 1863-1870). Among the authors of works on mosses are Carl Friedrich B. Fiedler (Synopsis der Laubmoose Mecklenburg's, Schwerin 1844), Heinrich Friedrich Link, Wilhelm Lindenberg, Christian Gottfried D. Nees von Esenbeck and Gustav Kunze.


2.8 A notable feature of the collection are works on evolution and genetics. Among the relevant authors are Wilhelm Friedrich B. Hofmeister (Vergleichende Untersuchungen der Keimung ... höherer Kryptogamen, Leipzig 1851) and Christian Gottfried D. Nees von Esenbeck (Die allgemeine Formenlehre der Natur als Vorschule der Naturgeschichte, Breslau 1852). Evolution was studied by Gottlieb Haberlandt (Die Entwicklungsgeschichte des mechanischen Gewebesystems der Pflanzen, Leipzig 1879, with 7 additional titles by this author). To this group also belongs Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Versuch, die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu klären (Gotha 1790), a contribution towards the identification of an ``Urpflanze'.


2.9 Among the special categories a substantial number of herbals were acquired, mostly within the pre-Linnean botany collection. There are famous examples such as Leonard Fuchs, Den nieuwen herbarius ... (Basel 1543) or his Primi de stirpium historia commentariorum ... (Basel 1545). Pier Andrea Mattioli is represented by his New Kreüterbuch (Prague 1563; Frankfurt 1611) and his Opera ([Basel] 1598). Finally, Elizabeth Blackwell's Herbarium Blackwellianum emendatum ... C. J. Trew (Nuremberg 1750-1773) deserves mention. Apart from illustrated herbals, the library holds fine examples of illustrated books, e.g. Maria Sybilla Merian's Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung (Nuremberg 1679) and her Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam [1705]).


2.10 Together with the collection of floras concerning all parts of the world, which have been acquired systematically, a substantial collection of travel literature came into the library, including nearly 1,000 vols from Sir William Hooker's collection (see above 1.2). Although most of these works are in English, there are numerous examples from German presses. Among the general works collected are G. Neumayer (Anleitungen zu wissenschaftlichen Beobachtungen auf Reisen, Berlin 1888), Franz Julius F. Meyen, Reise um die Erde ...in den Jahren 1830, 1831 und 1832 (Berlin 1834) or Berthold Carl Seemann (Reise um die Welt und drei Fahrten der Königlich Britischen Fregatte Herald nach dem nördlichen Polarmeere ...1845-1851 (Hanover 1853; also English, London 1853). Favourite themes were oriental travels, e.g. by Theodor Kotschy (Gotha 1858), Heinrich von Maltzan (Braunschweig 1873) or Africa, a favourite area for German explorers of the late 19th century, such as Heinrich Brugsch, Gerhard Rohlfs, Georg Schweinfurth, W. Kobelt and Wilhelm Philipp Schimper. Russia had been explored by Samuel Georg Gmelin (Reise durch Russland zur Untersuchung der drey Natur-Reiche ..., St. Petersburg 1774) and America by Alexander von Humboldt (whose works published together with Aimé Bonpland are only extant in French editions). The library holds 5 Latin items by Georg Forster printed in Germany (mostly floras, e.g. Herbarium australe, Göttingen 1797) and two floras by Johann Reinhold Forster, based on their observations during the circumnavigation of the world with Captain Cook in 1772/75.

Horti botanici

2.11 There is a great number of descriptions of botanical gardens from Germany and Austria, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. A famous early example is Basilius Besler's Hortus Eystettensis (Altdorf 1613). There are descriptions of the botanical gardens of Berlin, Bonn (Nees von Esenbeck, 1820), Dresden (Johann J. von Hoffmannsegg, 1824), Göttingen (Albrecht von Haller, 1753, plus 10 other items by him). Marburg (Georg Wilhelm F. Wenderoth, 1850), Munich (1825), Nuremberg (Christoph Jakob Trew, 1750-1772 and 1763) and Schönbrunn near Vienna (Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin, 1797-1804). The collection is completed by Gregor Kraus's retrospective work Geschichte der Pflanzeneinführungen in die europäischen botanischen Gärten (Leipzig 1894). The RBG holdings of botanical garden literature and botanical literature in general printed in the German-speaking countries are remarkable. They have been collected systematically throughout the library's existence and may be compared in their range and scope to those of the Botanical Gardens in Berlin or Göttingen University Library.

Karen Kloth


3.1 Modern catalogues

Author catalogue of the Royal Botanic Gardens Library Kew, England. Published by G. K. Hall. 5 vols. Boston 1974

[reproduced from the card catalogue]

Classified catalogue of the Royal Botanic Gardens Library Kew, England. Published by G. K. Hall. 4 vols. Boston 1974

[reproduced from the card catalogue]

List of periodical publications in the Royal Botanic Gardens Library. London 1978

Computerization of the catalogue began in 1991.

3.2 Historic catalogue

Catalogue of the library. In: Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information, additional series 3 (1899); supplement 1919


4.1 Archival sources

The Archives of RBG Kew contain about 7 million sheets in 4,600 sets of paper. Most are the official records of work done at RBG Kew, and are Public Records. They contain letters, exploration diaries, field notebooks etc. The correspondence concerns many different countries world-wide, especially the tropics, and includes material from German-speaking botanists, plant collectors, horticulturists etc.

The latest published listing of RBG Kew's archives is to be found as list 269 in: Natural history manuscript resources in the British Isles, ed. by Gavin Bridson et al. London 1980

In the Archives Room there are detailed listings for researchers to consult, and indexes to the names of the correspondents.

There are MS lists of the Bromfield, Bentham and Hooker collections in the Archives.

4.2 Publications

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Reports: 1844-. (3-yearly 1984-1996). From 1887-1958, the reports were published as part of Kew Bulletin; there were no reports for 1883/86 and 1959-1971. - An index for 1862-1882 was published as Kew Bulletin 1890, App. III; later reports were indexed as part of the Kew Bulletin indexes, of which there were cumulated editions for 1887-1918, 1919-1928, 1929-1956.

Davidge, R.: The Library of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In: London Librarian 9 (1960) pp. 3-9

Desmond, R. G. C.: Herbarium and Library. The opening ...of the New Wing ...1969. Kew 1969 [a history and description]

Desmond, R. G. C.: Kew Herbarium and Library. In: Journal of the Kew Guild 8 (74) (1969) pp. 1081-1086; supplement: The Queen's Garden and the Herbarium. In: ibid. 9 (1970) pp. 5-21

Hepper, F. N. (ed.): The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Gardens for pleasure. London 1982

Desmond, R. G. C.: Kew. The history of the Royal Botanic Gardens. London 1995


Two major botanical reference works are largely based on the library collections at the RBG Kew:

Index Kewensis. 1889- [Cumulated CD-ROM version, 2nd edition, 1997, published for RBG Kew by Oxford University Press. Index Kewensis is a partner in the International Plant Names Index project (IPNI) with Harvard University Herbaria (USA) and the Australian Plant Names Index (Canberra). A combined database, updated daily, will be launched on the Internet in early 2000.]

Kew Record taxonomic literature of vascular plants. 1971- [published quarterly for RBG Kew by The Stationery Office; centuries special sections on Personalia and Botanical Institutions]

Desmond, R. G. C.: Celebration of flowers. 200 years of Curtis's Botanical Magazine. London 1987

Ebel, F. et al.: Bibliographie der Botanischen Gärten Europas. Heft 2. Halle 1983, pp. 185-199 (Terrestrische Ökologie, Sonderheft 3)

FitzGerald, S.: Images of Africa at Kew Gardens. In: African Research and Documentation 68 (1995) pp. 61-64

A list of RBG Kew's other publications is available on request.

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 325-327

September 1997

Sylvia FitzGerald

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.