The Natural History Collection of the Royal Society – With 31 Engraved Plates

Grew, Nehemiah (1641-1712)

Musaeum Regalis Societatis or a Catalogue & Description Of the Natural and Artificial Rarities Belonging to the Royal Society and preserved at Gresham Colledge. Made By Nehemiah Grew M. D. Fellow of the Royal Society, and of the Colledge of Physitians. Whereunto is Subjoyned the Comparative Anatomy of Stomachs and Guts. By the same Author.

London: Hugh Newman, 1681


Folio: 31 x 20.3 cm. A6, B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Ddd4 (Ddd3, blank, present), A-E4, F2. With an engraved portrait and thirty-one engraved plates (one folding).


Including thirty-one full-paged engraved plates (one folding) of the marvelous and exotic subjects of the collections of the Royal Society. This copy is bound in contemporary English mottled calf, rebacked, light wear to extremities, corners bumped. Internally a fine, crisp copy, in excellent condition. A few light creases to the final plates. Contemporary corrections in the text.

Grew, who has been described as “one of the most distinguished scientists of the 17th century,” is best known for work in plant anatomy. In the present work, Grew catalogs the nascent collection of the Royal Society, which received its royal charter in 1662. At the core of this work are the donations from the “curiosity cabinets” of the Society’s membership.

The world surrendered its most notable artifacts, natural and otherwise. Some of the ‘oddities’ described include: an Egyptian mummy, a male human fetus, the “skin of a moor”, the skeleton of an abortive human fetus, human skulls, a penis, the womb of a woman, a sloth, a monstrous calf with two heads, a crocodile, a chameleon, a senembi lizard of Brazil, the skin of a few snakes from Brazil, a great bat from the West Indies, a Bird of Paradise, the leg of a dodo, several loons, an auk (now extinct), many eggs and nests, coral, stones, gems, an air pump, a condensing engine, a weather clock, two microscopes, an otocoustick, a reflecting telescope, a model of a winding stair case, a double bottomed ship, a canoe, a poisoned dagger, a cider press, Virginian money, a hammock, many American Indian everyday objects, Icelandic gloves, the fan of an Indian king, a snow shoe from Greenland, and much more. 

The illustrations include a hippopotamus skull, the buttock skin of a rhinoceros, tortoise shells, the skeleton of a crocodile, the sea unicorn, a coconut, fish, bird’s nests, shells, insects, and more.

In addition to Grew’s catalog, the book includes his “study of the stomach organs, which is the first zoological book to have the term ‘comparative anatomy’ on the title page, and also the first attempt to deal with one system of organs only by the comparative method.” (Garrison-Morton 297). 

"Grew was one of the early comparative anatomists to use the microscope... The thirty-one plates are particularly fine." (Heirs of Hippocrates)

Heirs of Hippocrates, 640; Wing G-1952; Garrison-Morton 297; Wellcome III, p.164.