Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2021 Issue

A Butterfly Found in a Very Old Book


The colorful butterfly pressed in the book (image taken from Trinity Hall video).

Jenni Lecky-Thompson, Head of Library Services at Cambridge University's Trinity Hall, made an unexpected discovery within the pages of a very old book. She found a butterfly. It had been pressed within a book about insects, Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum (the theater of insects or small animals), published in 1634. It is unknown when the butterfly was pressed in the book. It could have been anytime between the date of publication and when it was given to the library in the 1990s. We suspect it goes back a long time but no one is certain.


The book, like the butterfly, has a long history, one which is a bit convoluted. The book was started by Conrad Gessner, but was unfinished when he died in 1565. His papers, including the manuscript for this book, was purchased by his assistant, Thomas Penny. Penny then acquired the notes of Edward Wotten and began combining the two texts. However, he too died, in 1589, with the book uncompleted. It then passed to his friend, Thomas Moffet, who enlarged and completed the book. Unfortunately, negotiations for its publication fell through and the book remained unpublished when Moffet died in 1604. The manuscript remained with the Moffet family for many years until finally sold to French physician Théodore Turquet de Mayerne. He finally succeeded in having the book published in 1634. Gessner, Wotten, Penny, and Moffet are all credited on the title page. Despite it taking almost a century to be published, it is still the first English book about insects.


We can't tell you much about the history of this particular copy. It was published in 1634 and we next pick it up sometime in the twentieth century. That is when it came into the possession of Lawrence Strangman. He was an undergraduate at Trinity Hall from 1925-1928. The Trinity Hall website tells us, “He was a passionate book collector who put together an eclectic collection of antiquarian books. His interests were wide-ranging, taking in early books on natural history, travel, 19th century English novels, the classics, twentieth century humour, private press books and much more besides.” Among that eclectic mix you will notice early books on natural history, so this book fit in his collection. Strangman died in 1980. His collection was later given to Trinity Hall by his family, presented by his niece, Geraldine Essayan, in 1996 in his memory.


As to when this butterfly was pressed in the book, no one knows, but we think it unlikely Strangman did it. He was an antiquarian book collector, and that is not something most collectors would do with their books. Collectors are preservationists, but of books, not of foreign objects which might affect the books. Indeed, it would seem that this book probably went from being used as a source of scientific knowledge to a collectible object long ago, measured in centuries. The butterfly was impressed in the pages that depict its species, a sign that it was placed inside to illustrate the text rather than to randomly preserve a butterfly. My guess is the butterfly was placed in this old book by someone interested in butterflies rather than old books, and that would appear more likely to be an early owner than a later one.


As can be seen in the picture, the colorful butterfly has been pressed in alongside of the black and white woodcut of what appears to be the same species. Ms. Lecky-Thompson identified the butterfly as likely being a small tortoiseshell. This species is found throughout most of Europe and Asia.

Posted On: 2021-04-01 22:00
User Name: mairin

Ah! Delicious information: It intersects nicely with my research interests & personal 'themes.'
By my lights, it merits attention that the history of this particular book is associated with Dr Mayerne, physician to the royal Stuarts and (especially) to one of its most glamorous and amusing kinswomen: the red-haired Lady Mary ('Mall') Villiers, later Stuart, Duchess of Richmond & Lennox (pseud., 'Ephelia'); her code name during the English Troubles (she was an intelligencer for Charles II) was "Butterfly", dating from a famous prank of hers in the royal gardens -- 'Mall' Villiers was famous for practical jokes and court intrigue. We do know that Mayerne was often Lady Mary's attending physician (she had a long history of miscarriage); and he certainly would have known her pet-name. So maybe a connection here, maybe not. Why not try to sort it out? // My library includes a two-volume copy of Moffet's "Theatre of Insects", also a large folio edition (2 vols.) of Frohawk's sumptuous "Natural History of British Butterflies": shall scout around for additional images of this "small tortoiseshell" butterfly species & related information. // One of my associates on the 'Ephelia' matter, Dr John B. Heppner (U. of Florida-Gainesville / McGuire Center for Lepidoptera) is a respected moth-&-butterfly expert: shall share this interesting news piece with him. All that we do is collaborative (my mantra).

Happy thanks to Michael Stillman for an interesting, responsibly assembled article,

Maureen E. Mulvihill,
Collector & RBH Guest Writer.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Doyle<br>Stage & Screen<br>Auction April 28</b>
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 12. OKLAHOMA! Celeste Holm's vocal score for Oklahoma! inscribed by Richard Rodgers. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 20. WILSON, DOOLEY. Fine inscribed photograph to Celeste Holm with Casablanca reference. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 79. Original production script of the Broadway musical CATS with notes written by Claude Tessier. $600 to $900.
    <center><b>Doyle<br>Stage & Screen<br>Auction April 28</b>
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 139. STEPHEN SONDHEIM. Autographed musical manuscript signed for "Broadway Baby" from Follies. $500 to $800.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 180.<br>Cecil Beaton. Headdress for Liza at the Ball, from My Fair Lady, circa 1962. $700 to $900.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 177.<br>Cecil Beaton. Set Design for The Gainsborough Girls, 1951. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 54. Fanciful engraving of earth's interior with magma core and errupting volcanoes (1682). $1500 to $1800.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 165. Rare state of Jefferys' influential map of New England in contemporary color (1755). $8000 to $9500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 177. Mouzon's foundation map of the Carolinas (1775). $10000 to $13000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 183. Very rare first state of De Fer's map of the Lower Mississippi Valley (1715). $20000 to $25000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 253. Scarce Scottish edition based on Ellicott's plan of Washington, D.C. (1796). $2400 to $3000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 313. Stunning view of Philadelphia by John Bachmann (1850). $3250 to $4250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 338. Rare Civil War map based on Bucholtz map of Virginia (1862). $9500 to $12000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 667. First map to accurately show Luzon in Philippines (1590). $6000 to $7500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 682. Rare map of Shanghai International Settlement published just after WWI (1918). $7000 to $9000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 738. Coronelli's superb map of the Pacific showing the Island of California (1697) Est. $2400 - $3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 743. A cornerstone piece in the mapping of Australia and New Zealand (1726) Est. $6000 - $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 781. An uncommon signature during Jefferson's Governorship of Virginia (1779) Est. $9500 - $11000
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <center><b>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>Timed auction, April 29</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1032. RATZER, BERNARD. Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1011. [BROADSIDE]. Life, Last Words and Dying Confession, of Rachel Wall... $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1055. BEATON, CECIL. Scrapbook prepared by Cecil Beaton over the period 1935-1944, with some later inclusions. $800 to $1,200.
    <center><b>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>Timed auction, April 29</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1051. ADDAMS, CHARLES. Original drawing "I hope the power doesn't go out until after Masterpiece Theatre." $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1037. The Campaign Speeches of Nixon of Kennedy, inscribed to William Safire by Richard Nixon and secretarially for John Kennedy. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1036. Celebration of the Commencement of Work on Rapid Transit Railroad. March 24th 1900, one o'clock, City Hall Park, New York. $200 to $300.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 1005. 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers signed baseball including Jackie Robinson. $3,000 to $5,000.

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