The Special Collections Department currently possesses 50,000 rare volumes, focusing on agriculture, science, and technology.
Search for rare books in the library’s general catalog.
The department’s holdings in agriculture include such early works as Pietro de’Crescenzi’s De agricultura vulgare (1511), an Italian translation of Ruralia Commoda, which is a standard work on agriculture first written circa 1305, and Jean Ruel’s Veterinariae medicinae (1530), a collection of veterinary treatises by Greek authors. The collection has a good representation of titles from major English authors from the 16th through 18th centuries. Jethro Tull’s The horse-hoing husbandry: or, an essay on the principles of tillage and vegetation (1733), represents the beginning of the mechanization of farming with Tull’s development of the horse-drawn seed drill and the horse-drawn hoe. Other major British agriculturalists are represented in the collection, including Gervase Markham, Arthur Young, John Worlidge, and William Marshall. The collection is also strong in American agricultural journals. Titles of note include American agriculturist, The Country Gentleman, Farm Journal, and the Iowa farm journals Wallace’s Farmer and Iowa Homestead. Gardening, landscape design, and landscape architecture are well-represented, including a number of seed catalogs from Iowa nurseries (Des Moines Seed Company, Iowa Seed Company, C.W. Dorr & Co., Earl May, and others) and other nurseries across the United States. The collection also includes a number of early works of veterinary medicine, many focused on horse anatomy and farriery.
The collection has strengths in natural history, particularly in fine bird books. Titles of significance to American ornithology include John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1840-1844), Charles Lucien Bonaparte’s American Ornithology (1825-1833), and several works by Daniel Giraud Elliot. The department also holds the works of prominent English ornithologists, most notably several works of the bird artist John Gould, who produced plates with the assistance of his wife Elizabeth Gould. Mark Catesby was an English naturalist whose Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1729-1747) was the earliest published description of the flora and fauna of North America. The department also holds significant natural history books on lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) and other insects, animals, and plants. Related holdings include 16th and 17th century herbals, works on botany and plant anatomy, and miscroscopy. The collection also has a strong representation from important authors of the Scientific Revolution, including Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton.
The collection includes significant early technology works on land surveying, mechanical engineering and machinery, and metallurgy. We hold a number of 17th century manuals of surveying that were important to surveyors in colonial America, including John Love’s Geodaesia (1687), which was used by George Washington and other prominent early Americans. The department includes a number of significant exemplars of the “theater of machines” genre, or books of mechanical inventions. These include the first of this type of book, Jacques Besson’s Theatre des instrumens mathematiques & mechaniques (Theater of mathematical and mechanical instruments) (1578), Jacob Leupold’s Theatrum machinarum generale (The General Theory of Machines) (1724), and Giovanni Branca’s Le machine (1629). We also hold a full run of Denis Diderot’s 35-volume Encyclopedie (1751-1780). Although a general encyclopedia, this work is significant for the fields of science and technology because it was the first to describe the mechanical arts and applied a scientific approach to understanding mechanical and production processes.
Secondary collecting areas include:
- Artist’s books: most have a subject connection to the sciences or natural history
- Costume, dress, and fashion
- Domestic science, home economics, and household management
- Incunabula: books from the first 50 years of printing in Europe, or works printed before 1501, including the library’s oldest book: St. Thomas Aquinas Quaestiones de veritate. Colonie: Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck, 1475.
- Iowa Cookbook Collection: community and organization cookbooks from the late 19th and 20th centuries, including a complete run of the Kitchen-Klatter magazine
- Iowa and local history
- Literature: includes the Margaret Young Science Fiction Collection, several Charles Dickens novels in original parts and first editions, works by Lafcadio Hearn, and late 19th century historical adventure stories of G.A. Henty
For further information on the these collections or to discuss the possibility of donating a collection, contact:
403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-2102