Spotting a First Edition of Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds

Should you happen to spot—say, in a yard sale, thrift store or grandparent’s house—an old copy of that classic of ornithological literature, A Field Guide to the Birds, have a close look. The first printing of the first edition of 1934 is calling for prices well over $10,000 in the antiquarian book trade. One was recently spied by keen-eyed staff in an office at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. This volume has more »

Native Fruit: The Wild Blueberry

My favorite chronicler of natural and cultural histories in early America is Englishman John Josselyn. He was a curious and good-humored observer of the 17th-century inhabitants of northern New England, both indigenous and colonists, and their ways. Josselyn was particularly interested in local, medicinal uses of plants. Of what he referred to as “bill berries,” Europe’s closest relative to the blueberries, he reported that the fruit is used “To cool the heat more »

Movable London

Elizabeth Broman and Julia Blakely co-authored this post The plot of the recent film, “Paddington 2,” revolves around a one-of-a-kind pop-up book. In a wonderful scene, the good-souled, marmalade-loving bear is transported after opening the covers to movable parts within, unfurling into a dream of London (link here). Paddington declares it is the perfect gift (“like she were finally here”) for his adored Aunt Lucy in “Darkest Peru.” The volume is for more »

An Imaginative World found in a Shell Book

  As a commemoration of the Imperial collection of shells in Vienna, the printed folio of Testacea Musei Caesarei Vindobonensis of 1780, is splendid. The eighteen engraved plates, carefully colored by hand, render individual specimens in the Habsburgs’ K.K. Hof-naturalien-Cabinet as if pieces of jewelry, casting shadows on a plain background of the thick, hand-made paper. Dedicated to the Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa (1717-1780), this production was also a work of more »

Myrtle: The Provenance and Meaning of a Plant

A version of this post first appeared on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog. Provenance can be defined as the chain of ownership of any type of object from its creation to the present day. Co-organized by the Smithsonian Libraries, the Smithsonian’s Material Culture Forum recently held a lively session of presentations and discussions on this topic, with speakers from across the Institution: the National Zoo; Natural History Museum scientists and researchers in more »

Women’s Work in the Early Book Trade

In 16th-century Spain, manuals detailing the finer points of sailing and navigation were printed. It was the Age of Discovery and the country was establishing lucrative trade routes across the seas while expanding their colonial empire. Other nations were keen to tap into the Spaniards’ great expertise found in this literature, as there was little maritime information published elsewhere. Books were a means of developing knowledge of geography and voyaging to be more »

“An American Slave:” The Narrative of Frederick Douglass on the 200th Anniversary of his Birth

February 14th, 2018 marks the 200th birthday (observed) of Frederick Douglass. Interested in contributing to his legacy? Join the Transcribe-a-thon organized by Colored Conventions and the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Autobiographies of antebellum slaves, fugitive or former, are an extensive and influential tradition in American culture and a distinctive contribution to world literature. They speak to the country’s founding identity, giving voice to those in bondage and their search for freedom. They provide more »

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