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Rare Book Room

The collections of the Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room include 7,500 book volumes and 3,000 original works of art. The collections of the Rare Book Room represent a century of acquisitions from a wide variety of sources, including a number of personal collections of past Museum researchers as well as routine acquisitions by the library. The core of the book collections held in the Rare Book Room consists of several specialized subject collections formed by individuals in areas such as ornithology, mineralogy, gemology, natural history, travel and exploration and the anthropology and culture of China. The art collection encompasses works related to scientific illustration, anthropology and natural history.

Rare Book Room Collections

Berthold Laufer Collections

Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), curator of Asian Anthropology from 1908 to 1934, was a pioneer in the study of Asian cultures. With a doctorate in oriental languages from the University of Leipzig, Laufer was a sinologist who was fluent in more than a dozen languages, many of which were non Indo-Eurpoean. Polymath and polyglot, his interests seemed unbounded and his linguistic skills unequaled.

Edward E. Ayer Collection

Edward Ayer (1841-1927) has been the principal benefactor of the Library. Instrumental in the founding of the Museum, and serving as its first President, Ayer gave great attention to the Library from the moment it was organized. In 1894 he presented to the Library his private ornithology collection of 400 carefully chosen volumes and his collection of ichthyological works. In the same year he purchased the 600 volume collection ornithologist Charles Barney Cory (1857-1921).

John James Audubon Collection

John James Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827-1838) is probably the most famous of all bird books. Our copy was the gift of Mary W. Runnells in 1969. This set is consistently rich and brilliant in its coloring.  The four volumes are bound in a systematic arrangement -- rather than in the usual plate number order -- that closely follows Audubon's ordering of birds in his Synopsis of the Birds of America (1839). The original owner of our copy was Dr. Benjamin Phillips, a close friend of Audubon and the Audubons' family physician in London.