Hans Sloane and His Books

To celebrate World Book Day 2015, I tweeted out examples of letters that discussed the library and books of eighteenth-century collector Sir Hans Sloane.


  1. Sloane was one of the eighteenth-century's main collectors. In addition to aquiring objects, he also accumulated about 40,000 books and manuscripts. These would be the foundational collection for what would become the British Museum (later, the British Library).
  2. Part of Sloane's correspondence can be searched at my database, Sir Hans Sloane's Correspondence Online:  https://drc.usask.ca/projects/sloaneletters/doku.php . The database provides letter summaries and, sometimes, transcriptions.
  3. Here is some indication of how Sloane built up his collection: getting others to buy up large lots on their travels, then send it back to him. And it could be a lengthy process.
  4. There are lots of letters to Sloane that refer to what people were reading and borrowing, lending or buying books.
  5. This letter touches on the exchange of books between readers so that each could fill gaps in their own collections. Etienne-Francois Geoffroy, a Paris physician, had a large collection of medical and chemical books--especially ones written in French.
  6. Sloane's book network stretched from Italy to France to the Netherlands, and further afield.
  7. But Sloane often passed on books, sending duplicates--for example--to other libraries, such as the Bodleian.
  8. Or sending books of interest to other collectors. But what I also find interesting here is the method of delivery: via other travellers.
  9. But what did borrowers want? Sometimes just good conversation and ideas...
  10. William Derham regularly provided details on what books he borrowed from Sloane.
  11. Others had more specialised interests.
  12. Thomas Smith's flattery reflected a reality: Sloane really did have a lot of stuff that might be useful to the right person, as well as rare. And if he didn't have it, he might be able to obtain special books through his connections.