In the early 20th century, few things excited the public more than the development of mechanized flying machines. Whether aircraft or dirigible, these machines were documented in the specialized and popular literature of the day. The Smithsonian Libraries is committed to digitizing its special collection of rare books and journals on the invention and growth of aviation. Many of the tiles we’ve scanned and digitized to date are accessible through the Internet Archive.
In 2011, The Cooper-Hewitt Museum National Design Library was awarded a $96,000 grant from the CCPF (Collections Care and Preservation Fund, an internal grant awarding source) of the Smithsonian Institution to conduct a condition assessment survey of approximately 4,000 items of its Special Collections. We’ve done many preservation and book housing projects over the years, with repairs and custom enclosures made when the occasion demanded, but we’ve never had the opportunity or plan in place to look at the condition of our Rare Book collection as a whole before.
The most interesting thing about the text, at least to me, is its variety of bizarre illustrative woodcuts. The first half of the text, “De Herbis,” contains many woodcuts of various plants. Three more sections follow, including the next section, “Tractatus de Animalibus,” which focuses on animals both real and imagined. Prüss immediately catches the reader’s attention with a detailed, labeled woodcut of a human skeleton, then continues with hundreds of odd woodcuts, some of which depict animals that the artist had clearly never seen.