The Sherardian Library is richly endowed with rare early, mostly taxonomic, botanical works and forms an integral part of the Oxford University Herbaria. The historic collections are large, due to the close link between the former Botany School and the University Botanic Garden. The most significant of the Library's early works are grouped in the Sherard Collection, named after William Sherard (1659-1728), who endowed the Chair of Botany at Oxford. One of the best pre-Linnaean collections in the UK, this comprises some 750 books (mostly printed before 1750) and 480 manuscripts, mainly on taxonomy, from the libraries of Sherard himself, J. Bobart (1641-1719), R. Morison, J. J. Dillenius, J. Sibthorp, G. Williams and C. G. B. Daubeny. In this century, the Library has also received valuable bequests from S. H. Vines, G. C. Druce, J. Burtt-Davy and more recently Misses E. S. and J. Fry, amongst others.
Treasures of the manuscript collection are Ferdinand Bauer's 966 original drawings for the Flora Graeca of J. Sibthorp and J. E. Smith (1806-1840). The published work, which the Library also holds, has been described as the most costly and most magnificent flora ever produced; according to the “Oxford Chronicle” (Oct. 12, 1917) the original drawings are ‘as works of art, superior to anything of the kind in existence, and constitute one of the most valuable treasures of the University of Oxford’. Approximately 600 type specimens relating to this journey are held in the Sibthorpian Herbarium. During botanical exploration of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean region Bauer also completed 293 drawings for the Fauna Graeca and 131 Mediterranean Scenes, neither of which were ever published and are held in the library. Several other manuscripts relating to the Greek voyage, including diaries, notes concerning his publication plans and the disputes involved are also held in the manuscript collection. This collection has been thoroughly studied by Professor W. Lack from Berlin (Lack, W. with Mabberley, D. J. 1999. The Flora Graeca Story: Sibthorp, Bauer and Hawkins in the Levant. Oxford University Press, Oxford).
The Sherard Collection also contains many other works of major importance, including copies of Bauhin's Pinax dated 1623 and 1671, a third copy of the latter edition being interleaved and bound in two volumes, with abundant additional notes. The Sherardian Pinax, continuing Bauhin's work, runs to 16 volumes and lists all named plants with later synonyms and discoveries. Examples of other significant manuscripts are Herbarium Capense, 139 coloured drawings of African plants with names entered in Sherard's hand, and some beautifully illustrated Watercolours of Japanese (Chinese?) Plants with inscriptions in Dutch by N. Witsen, dated 1700. These have been shown at international exhibitions in Japan (1990) and the Netherlands (1992). Other rarities include a copy (one of only four known) of the famous Dioscorides at Vienna (Codex Vindobonensis c512) given by Jacquin to John Sibthorp - Plantarum Dioscorides, icones 412; and a superb copy of Rudbeck's Campi Elysii which consists of a lithograph copy of volume 1 and an original of volume 2 bound as one volume.
There are many other important books and manuscripts not included in the Sherard Collection (e.g. the Fry Collection, Druce papers, and other early taxonomic material). Of particular interest is the Sibthorpian Library, parts of which are contained in the Sherard Collection, the rest being dispersed around the Library. A complete list of the original contents of the Sibthorpian Library is held in the Sherard Collection (Ms Sherard 14).