Cole Library

The collection comprises around 8,000 volumes of printed books and scientific papers, covering the history of early medicine and zoology in general, and more particularly, comparative anatomy and reproductive physiology, from earliest times to the present day. There are an estimated 1,700 or more pre-1851 works, including many continental books.

Many seminal works in the history of the biological sciences are present. Authors represented include Galen, Fabricius, Belon, Wotton, Gesner, Bartholin, Swammerdam, Harvey, Ray, Haller, Leeuwenhoek, Linnaeus, the Hunters and Darwin. Notable individual works include:

  • Pliny's Natural history, Venice : Jenson, 1472, with illuminations
  • Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica 1st ed., Basle, 1543, and 2nd ed. 1555, in a contemporary Swiss binding
  • a substantial run of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, from 1665

The collection was originally the private library of Professor F J Cole (1872-1959), F.R.S.,  Professor of Zoology in the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939. He was a book collector and bibliophile from his schooldays until his death. His major historical work A history of comparative anatomy (1944) was based substantially on his own collection. 

The collection also includes 15 books by Sophie Cole (1862-1947), the sister of Professor Cole. As an adolescent, Miss Cole suffered from a long illness, and to pass the time she wrote a romance novel, Arrows from the dark in 1909, the first book to be published by Mills and Boon, who later became major publishers of romance novels. The book was well-received, and by 1914, 1,394 women had bought a copy. During her lifetime she wrote 65 books, and earned her living from them for many years. Miss Cole knew London very well, and wrote a non-fiction book on literary London, which is held in the collection. She lived in Brighton, but in her later years came to live with Professor Cole and his wife at Eldon Road in Reading. A number of the books are presentation copies from Miss Cole.

The following items from the Cole Library have appeared as our featured item:

More information

  • A small proportion of the items are catalogued on Enterprise, including all the Sophie Cole books. Most of the collection has brief handwritten cards in the Online Card Catalogue.
  • The Cole Library of early medicine and zoology: a catalogue by Nellie B. Eales, part 1, 1472-1800; part 2, 1800 to the present day, and supplement; The Library, University of Reading, 1969-1975.
  • K.J. Franklin, 'Francis Joseph Cole, 1872-1959' in Biographical memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 5 (1960), p37-47
    N.B. Eales, 'Francis Joseph Cole, 1872-1959' in Journal of the history of medicine 14 (1959), p267-72.
    F.J. Cole, 'Obiter dicta bibliographica' in Journal of the history of medicine, 14 (1959), p2-9
    F.J. Cole, 'Bibliographical reflections of a biologist' in Proceedings of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, 5 (1939), p169-86

book history, science & hisory of science, natural history, printing history printed books (pre-1850), printed books (post-1850), personal papers Y cole library

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