National Coal Mining Museum for England Displays Georgius Agricola’s volume De Re Metallica

The National Coal Mining Museum for England near Wakefield has recently acquired a first edition of Georgius Agricola’s volume De Re Metallica, the definitive early treatise on mining methods, engineering, chemistry and geology. The volume, published in 1556, contains woodcuts that have been used by virtually every later historian to explain mining life and technology. It was published in Latin, but German and Italian editions followed.

The Museum bought the volume at auction with help from the Art Fund, which gave a grant of £5,313 towards the purchase. The Museum’s existing library collection is a valuable resource for researchers and an essential reference tool for staff. Many of the publications held are rare and irreplaceable and form part of the accessioned collections. Highlights include the Eastwood Collection (containing, almost exclusively, pre-twentieth-century material), the Wolf Collection and donations from British Coal’s Hobart House library and the Health and Safety Executive.

The Museum’s library collection consists to a large extent of books and printed material from former NCB offices and mining college libraries, and also added to by gift from private donors and by purchase. As libraries contract their mining reserves, the Museum continues to add significant items.

On acquiring the volume, Rosemary Preece, Curatorial Director at the Museum said, “For a museum which looks at mining engineering and communities in equal measure, the volume is virtually unique for its period in considering both mining methods and way of life, a combination which has resonance within the Museum’s own galleries. As one of the few early European mining texts well known within Britain, De Re Metallica adds real depth to the Museum’s collection.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “This highly detailed and meticulously illustrated volume is a really important artefact of British industrial history. We’re really pleased that it will now be seen by the public in the National Coal Mining Museum for England – a very appropriate home. The money we give to wonderful works such as this comes directly from our members and supporters – so we thank them for their continued support for our cause.”
De Re Metallica is now on display in the library at the Museum and can be viewed during normal library opening times, alongside the English translation produced in 1912 by Herbert Clark Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover.

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