Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000


The Society has a large and diverse collection of treasures which we are progressively adding to this web site.  Revisit every few weeks to see what's new!

Note:  The information presented has been prepared by volunteers of the RGSSA and is subject to revision as more research on the treasures is undertaken.

The Society is grateful to many contributors for assistance with this project.


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A Voyage to Terra Australis 1814, by Matthew Flinders

This rare edition, published as two volumes of journals and two volumes of charts in 1814, is one of the outstanding treasures of the RGSSA.  Flinders was the first to circumnavigate Australia and chart its entire coastline.

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Scenery of Rio de Janeiro - sketches by George French Angas

The eight finely drawn watercolours depict the scenery of Rio de Janeiro. George French Angas made these images in December 1845, during a short layover in Rio on his return voyage to England from Australia

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A Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1704

First published in four volumes in 1704 by London booksellers Awnsham and John Churchill, these works were the first English translations of European explorations but also included English works that “for their excellency and scarceness, deserved to be reprinted”.  These comprehensive volumes contained maps, engravings, and descriptions from voyages to much of the New World over the preceding two centuries.

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Views in Australia or New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land by Joseph Lycett, 1825.

Joseph Lycett was an artist who was transported to Australia in 1811 for forgery. His fifty aquatint engravings of landscape views are considered to be Australia's finest of the time and Lycett to be the outstanding artist of his period in Australia.

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Peron's account of Baudin's voyage with maps by Freycinet

This treasure consists of three volumes written by Francois Peron and a collection of magnificent maps by Louis de Freycinet. These record the journey of exploration to the "south seas" under Capt. Nicholas Baudin between 1800 and 1804, which included the south coast of Australia. Among the maps is the first published map of the whole of the coastline of Australia. It was during this voyage that Baudin's and Mathew Flinders' paths crossed at Encounter Bay, South Australia in May 1802.

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Giovanni B. Belzoni: Narrative of Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations, Egypt and Nubia

This book belongs to the earliest attempts to document Ancient Egypt for a Western audience. Experts and the general public have relished it as a true treasure trove ever since it was first published in 1822.  Belzoni’s incisive observations continue to be a rich source for archaeologists and ethnologists faithfully documenting sites and antiquities as they suddenly became accessible to the early 19th century discoverers from Europe and include sites not accessible to others.

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De Bry’s collection of travels and voyages to America

During the 16th and early 17th century the De Bry family published some of the greatest collections of illustrated voyages to the Americas. Considered one of the most influential and sought-after collection of voyages and maps ever published.

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The Birds of Australia by John Gould

This set of volumes is recognised as one of the great natural history publications of all time. It was published between 1840 and 1848 with 681 hand-coloured lithographic plates and is an original edition.

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Mammals of Australia by John Gould, 1845 -1863

John Gould is usually thought of as the "bird man", but following his trip to Australia between May 1838 and August 1839, he published Mammals of Australia in three volumes with 182 beautifully hand coloured lithographic plates.

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Mappemonde by Nicholas Desliens of Dieppe, 1566

This map was drawn with south at the top which was not uncommon until the use of the magnetic compasses became widespread. An excellent hand drawn copy from 1884 of one of the world’s oldest maps.

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David Roberts' hand coloured lithographs of the Holy Land - Royal Subscription Edition

123 Royal Subscription Edition RSE folio lithographic hand coloured prints of The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, and Arabia, From Drawings "made on the Spot" by David Roberts R A 1796-1864

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The Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya, 1849

This beautiful and rare folio (489mm x 362mm) edition of the Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya, 1849, contains 43 hand coloured lithographs of the rhododendrons collected by Joseph Dalton Hooker during his expedition 1847-1851 to the Himalayas. 

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Sketches by Hand : The Kaffirs Illustrated by George French Angus

George French Angas is known for his meticulous depictions of South Australian and New Zealand people and landscapes, completed in 1845. His South African watercolours, painted during 1846-1847, are less well known. The Society holds ten of these works, combining accurate and engaging portraiture with close ethnographic observation. 

Umpanda, King of the Amazulu, reviewing the soldiers at Nonduengu, 1847

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John Lewin's Natural History of Lepidopterous Insects (i.e. moths) of NSW, 1805

This book by John Lewin (1770-1819) was the first natural history book illustrated with plates produced in Australia and is extremely rare.

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The Forest Flora of South Australia - 45 coloured botanical lithographic plates

The Forest Flora of South Australia contains the first high quality prints of local botanical specimens published in the province of South Australia. Issued in nine parts, each of five plates, between 1883 and 1890.

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Charles Butler's The Feminine Monarchie, or the Historie of Bees, 1634

This is the first work on the science of beekeeping in the English language. Written by Charles Butler, who is known as the Father of English beekeeping, the text brought into the public consciousness the idea that a bee colony is presided over by a queen.

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William Cuningham's Cosmological Glasse 1558

The Cosmological Glasse, conteinyng the pleasant Principles of Cosmographie, Geographie, Hydrographie or Navigation, 1558. This very old and important book is said to be the first written on the subject of surveying and is one of the oldest items in the RGSSA collection. It contains many beautiful woodcuts including an aerial view of Norwich.

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The Zincali by George Borrow

This manuscript is in book form and consists of drafts for 'The Zincali' or An Account of the Gypsies of Spain published in1841 and also notes by the author George Borrow.

Image from The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Zincali

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Ptolemy Berlinghieri Maps 2

Ptolemy atlas 1480 - Ptolemy, Claudio, AD 100- AD 168 Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri 1480

The oldest book in the Society’s Library is Ptolemy's Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri, a folio volume published in Florence, Italy, by Nicolo Todescho Berlinghieri, ca 1480. This volume contains the calculations and art works of Claudius Ptolemy,  100– c. 170 AD.  This folio volume with 31 maps engraved on copper and is considered a monument of typography and the engraver's art.

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The Mariners' Magazine - By Captain Samuel Sturmy (1633-1669)

This 1679 publication is a comprehensive text covering all aspects of navigation. Included are logarithmic tables, instructions in astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, latitude and longitude as well as "fireworks" and fortifications.

It also includes a number of unusual rotating circular paper calculators - forerunners of the circular slide rule.

It is one of the oldest books in the Treasures collection.

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Colom, Arnold, Zee Atlas - Amsterdam 1658

This rare atlas, mostly of charts, includes one of the earliest published maps showing part of the south coast of Australia. These charts are exceptionally beautiful with ornate cartouches and vivid colouring.

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Rail Line Bugle

Sample of the original rail line from Goolwa to Port Elliot Railway

The rail sample from the Goolwa to Port Elliot section, opened in May 1854, is a first in Australia for several reasons: first laid with iron rails; first Government funded railway; first to use the 5’3’’ gauge in South Australia. The bugle is unique in that it belonged to the tram driver, as the line only used animal power, so there was no steam whistle.

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Robert Dettman Wall map

South Australia, wall map, created by the Department of Lands 1923

This 1923 map, a one-off creation, is approximately 3 metres wide by 3.5 metres tall, and has the signature of the Surveyor General, Theo (Theodore) E. Day, who was appointed in 1921. The map is a good example of the cartographer’s art around the 1920s.  It includes the routes of 28 explorers from Charles Sturt 1823 to Frank Rees George 1904 as well as Surveyed Lands, Pastoral Leases, Artesian basins and Goyder’s Line of rainfall etc.

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Wallace, Alfred Russel, The Malay Archipelago, 1869 and The geographical distribution of animals, 1876

These first editions are important treasures because they were written by Alfred Russell Wallace who developed theories of evolution and survival of the fittest at about the same time as Charles Darwin. Wallace also developed the "Wallace Line " running north south between Borneo and the Celebes that recognised the clear separation of Asiatic and Australian animals.

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Whisky Flasks

McKinlay’s Whisky Flask

Known as the "knight-errant of explorers", and standing 193cm (6 feet, 4 inches) tall, Scotsman John McKinlay (1819-72) was an adventurer and pastoralist. He led the South Australian Burke Relief Expedition and was the second European man to cross the continent from south to north.

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Banks Journal

Sir Joseph Banks -Handwritten journals of a voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador, and a visit to Lisbon

These two volumes were handwritten by the young, and later distinguished botanist, Joseph Banks on his first "expedition" between April and November 1766. The first records his journey to Newfoundland and Labrador on HMS Niger. This was his first visit to a foreign country and his first experience of ocean sailing. The second records his stay of six weeks in Lisbon on the way home.

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Shaws Catalogue of Cloths From Cooks Voyages 2

Catalogue of specimens of cloth collected during the voyages of Captain Cook, 1768-1779

This small book produced by Alexander Shaw in 1787 contains 38 samples of tapa cloth collected on the three voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific 1768-1779.

It is a rare example of items known to have certainly been on Cook's ships. It also contains anecdotes of early encounters with Indigenous peoples.

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A Synopsis of the Birds of Australia and Adjacent Islands by John Gould 1837-1838

This is an original edition of John Gould's first venture into the study of Australian birds featuring artwork and lithography by Elizabeth Gould. It contains seventy three hand-coloured lithographic plates showing mainly the heads of more than 160 Australian birds.

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Light portrait

Colonel Light's surveyor's level and portrait

Colonel William Light (1786-1839) was responsible for choosing the site and laying out the City of Adelaide in 1836 and has been called the "Founder of Adelaide".  The Society is fortunate to have a portrait by artist George A J Webb, Light's surveyor's dumpy level and relics salvaged from his cottage.

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Wildflowers of South Australia by Fanny de Mole, 1861

Wildflowers of South Australia was written and illustrated by Fanny Elizabeth de Mole (1835 - 1866). Published in 1861, it was the first book published on the botany of the province of South Australia.

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Dampier, William, A voyage to New Holland, &c. in the year 1699, Vol. III

This is a record of Dampier's second voyage to Australia as master on board the HMS Roebuck and was published in London in 1703. It is of historical significance as an early work (pre 1800) of voyage, exploration and description of Australia. It also contains the first drawings of a number of Australian plants including Sturt’s desert pea and has a Gill bookplate.

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HMS Rapid

Painting of Colonel Light’s ship H.M.S. Rapid in a gale at Rapid Bay

This oil painting of the survey brig Rapid, painted by Miss Doreen Bice, is a copy of an original watercolour by Colonel William Light that depicts the ship riding out a storm while held by two anchors off Rapid Bay. The scene is described in Colonel Light’s journal for 12-13 October 1836 following Light’s return from exploring the Port River.

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Peutinger Table - a 19th century copy of a strip map printed in 1598

Originally drawn in 1265 this strip map - depicting territory from England to China - is a 19th century copy comprising 11 panels and measuring approximately 34cm high and 6.74m long. The 16th century original of Tabula Peutingeriana is now conserved in the Austrian National Library Vienna.

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John Gould's Icones Avium 1837-1838

An original edition with 18 lithographs by John's talented artist wife Elizabeth. Features “figures and descriptions of new and interesting species of birds from various parts of the globe."

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Coultards Water Canteen With Engraving

Coulthard’s Water Canteen

This water Canteen is emblematic of the unforgiving nature of the interior of Australia and the risks people took to reconnoitre the country. Pioneer William Coulthard died of thirst in 1858 while searching for pastoral country north of Port Augusta. He scratched his tragic last words on this canteen.

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John Gould, Three papers on new species of birds, Transactions of Zoological Society, London

These papers, published in 1833 and 1847, are examples of the over 300 scientific papers by John Gould. They were published in the Transactions of the Zoological Society, London, and each has a hand-coloured lithographic plate of the subject bird, one of which was produced is by his artist wife Elizabeth Gould. These papers show that in 1833, early in his career, John Gould was well established in scientific circles as an ornithologist.

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John Lewin's Book, Birds of New Holland, 1808

This book, by John Lewin (1770-1819), is extremely rare and is one of only six copies known to exist. It was one of the first books published on Australian birds. Also in this volume are six plates from Lewin's Natural history of lepidopterous insects.

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John Pooles Grave

James Poole's Grave - oil painting

Oil painting of James Poole's grave at Depot Glen between Tibooburra and Milparinka NSW. Poole was second in command of Charles Sturt's expedition and died in July 1845 from scurvy.

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Portrait of William Silver and the York Gate Library

This portrait shows William Silver, the founder of the York Gate Library, which forms an important part of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia library located in the Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia. This is the largest non-government specialist geographical collection in Australia and one of the most significant of its type in the world.

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Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Atlas of the Whole World ) by Abraham Ortelius, 1571

This was a landmark in cartography and is known as the first modern atlas containing a comprehensive collection of the best available maps of the time.

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Catalogue of the York Gate Library and its compiler Edward Augustus Petherick

The internationally significant York Gate Library was acquired by the RGSSA in 1905. Its catalogues, published in 1882 and 1886, are unusual being arranged by subject rather than by author.  

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Nixon Adelaide District Plan Map

Nixon's map of Adelaide 1838

This very early map of Adelaide dated 1838 was drawn by Lieut. Henry Nixon who was a member of Colonel Light's survey party. It shows interesting detail of Adelaide in its very early days.

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Translation of Strabo's Geographicorum 1523

This is a translation of Strabo’s Geographicarum or Geography, originally published in 7BC, and is by Valentmus Curio according to a new translation from the Greek original done by Conrado Heresbachio, 1523. It is one of the oldest books in the RGSSA library and gives a valuable picture of how the world was perceived at that time.

STRABO TRANSLATION, 1523 Lalentinvs Cvrio lectori. En tibi lector stvdiose Strabonis geographicorum cõmetarios, olim ut putatur, à Guarino Veronense, & Gregorio Trisemate latinate donates, iam uero

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A first edition of Sebastian Munster's 'Cosmographia Universalis' 1544

This was the earliest German language description of the world. It contains a wealth of pictorial detail illustrating towns, animals and human beings as well as the more usual geographical information. It is one of the oldest books in the RGSSA library.

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John White's Journal of a voyage to New South Wales 1788

John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales was published in 1790, and represents one of the earliest and most important first-hand accounts of Australian colonial history. It includes sixty-five plates of a wide variety of animals, insects, fishes and plants and is one of the rare editions in colour.

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Comte de Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, Natural history, general and particular Illustrated, 1785

Buffon was the greatest naturalist of his time and some of his thoughts on how the world developed pre - dated those of Charles Darwin by 100 years. These RGSSA volumes are of historical significance for their early date of publication and the renown and influence of their author.

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Purchas his Pilgrimes in four volumes, 1625

Published in 1625 by Samuel Purchas - an Anglican cleric who met many seafarers in the course of his work. He collected their stories and published them as a way of educating the public and spreading the gospel. The book was a favourite of the author Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and the inspiration for his famous poem Kubla Khan.

Haklvytvs postumus,or, Purchas his Pilgrimes: contayning a history of the world, in sea voyages, & lande-trauells by Englishmen and others, whereinn Gods wonders......1625

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Adami Globe 2 North Pole View

Terrestrial globe 1857

A good quality terrestrial globe but not sufficiently reliable to prevent New Guinea being shown as two islands!

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Stuart Tree Sample That Went into Space

Space exploration poster & fragment of Stuart’s tree which travelled into space

A framed collage of NASA’s 1996 Space Shuttle Endeavour mission and a fragment of wood from a tree blazed by renown explorer John McDouall Stuart that was taken on the Endeavour voyage by Dr. Andrew Thomas (Australia’s only astronaut) as one of his personal mementos.  These items are unique and together represent a connection of exploration of both land and space by South Australians.

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RGSSA Portrait of Stuart section

Marquette and framed portrait of explorer John McDouall Stuart

Described as Australia’s greatest inland explorer, John McDouall Stuart led six expeditions across Australia, becoming the first European to cross the continent from south to north through the centre and returning without loss of life. Stuart’s six trips from 1858 to 1963 solved the global geographical riddle of what was in the centre of Australia and answered the question of the presence of an inland sea.

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Stuart's Tree - images

The painting of John McDouall Stuart's Tree at Chamber's Bay, NT celebrates the first south-north crossing of the Australian continent.

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John McDouall Stuart’s diaries

These two manuscript diaries were made by Stuart during his penultimate crossing of Australia November 1860 to July 1861 and July to September 1861. His next and last crossing was successfully completed during 1861-62 and he arrived back in Adelaide in early 1863. No other manuscripts exist.

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Historia Mundi: or Mercator’s Atlas – in English, published London, 1635

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) was a Flemish geographer, engraver and mathematician renowned for his production of maps, globes and scientific instruments. His Atlas, first published (posthumously) in 1595, represents the first appearance of the word ‘Atlas’ to reference a book of maps. 

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Royal Geographical Society of South Australia silk banner embroidered with gold and silver thread.

This banner was embroidered in 1986 by Mrs Eva Chambers, President of the Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia. The banner was presented to the Society on 10th July 1985 by President Brian Ward and his wife June at a special meeting of the Council held to mark the centenary of the formation of the Society on 10 July 1885.

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Visscher, Nicolaes - Atlas Minor Geographia Orbis Terrarum, 1690

An important atlas by the famous Dutch Visscher family of engravers, cartographers and publishers who were prominent in the great period of Dutch map-making of the 17th century.  Visscher atlases have some of the earliest detailed maps of the East Indies and Australia’s coast.

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Mr. Alfred Searcy’s Experiences on North coast of Australia

An important cultural report and details of everyday life in Port Darwin (the 'Singapore of Australia') pre and post European settlement. It includes a history of the trepang (sea cucumber) trade and transport network and the social interaction between the local Aboriginal, Malay and Macassar peoples.

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Sydney Parkinson's A Journal of a voyage to the South Seas in HMS Endeavour, 1773

Parkinson was Sir Joseph Banks' "draughtsman" on James Cook's expedition to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia 1768 - 1771. This journal is based on the notes he made during the voyage and was published by his brother Stanfield after Sydney's death on the voyage home. The illustrations are engravings made from Parkinson's original sketches.

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von Humboldt, Alexander - A first edition of Kosmos in two volumes, 1847

Von Humboldt (1769-1859) is said to be the greatest of the geographer - explorers of the nineteenth century. This first edition of Kosmos in two volumes (Kosmos : Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung) includes a dedication to Richard Schomburgk which gives this treasure a direct connection between Adelaide and the international science community.

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Chrysoloras, Manuel (1335-1415) - Greek- Latin Grammar 1514

This very old Greek- Latin Grammar or Erotemata was prepared by Chrysoloras and edited by Demetrius Ducas in 1514. It is said to be the first book printed in Greek in the Western World.

(Erotemata chrysolorae. De formatione temporum ex libro chalcondylae.: Quartus gazae de constructione. De anomalis verbis. De encliticis. Sententiae monastichi ex varijs poetis..1514 )

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Pliny the Elder AD 23-79; The historie of the world

Commonly called the Natvrall historie of C. Plinivs Secvndvs; Plinies naturall historie. 1601; Uniform Title: Naturalis historia. English. 1601; Translated into English by Holland, Philemon 1552-1637; this extremely old and rare publication was published in 1603.

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Van de Velde, Charles W. M.; Vues de Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes published in Amsterdam in 1846

Van de Velde, Charles William Meredith (1818-1898), Vues de Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes published in Amsterdam in 1846. This rare and beautiful French first edition contains some of the earliest printed views of the Indonesian Islands printed in Europe.

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