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Rare Books Collections

Highlights of the Collection

The Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room holds many significant works in the fields of anthropology and natural history. Here is a selection of some of the more rare or unique works from the collections.

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Highlights of the Collection

The Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room holds many significant works in the fields of anthropology and natural history. Here is a selection of some of the more rare or unique works from the collections.

John James Audubon (1787-1851)

The Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room holds an exceptional copy of the first edition, double elephant folio of Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827-1838). 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. Our copy is one of three copies for which thirteen extra "composite" plates were prepared by overprinting images from other copperplates onto the normal state of a print.

The library also holds Audubon’s manuscript journal for the year 1826. This most important of Audubon’s surviving manuscript journals is the record of the naturalist’s pivotal voyage to England in 1826 to seek publication of his paintings of American birds.

Charles Bélanger (1805–1881?)

One of the unique works in the Rare Book Room is a volume of unpublished original ethnographic watercolor illustrations by Bélanger, made during his travels through India in the 1820s. Bélanger led an important scientific expedition that traveled from Paris through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, across Russia and south through India to Pondicherry.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Benjamin Walsh (1808-1869)

The collections of the Rare Book Room include a set of eighteen letters from Darwin to Benjamin D. Walsh of Rock Island, who was the first state entomologist of Illinois. All are dated from Down House and signed by Darwin.

Artwork

The artwork held by the library includes several significant collections of original works. Among these are the paintings and sketches of Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), which he created during The Field Museum-Chicago Daily News Expedition to Abyssinia of 1926-1927. The works of George Miksch Sutton (1898-1981) held by the library include sketchbooks and 35 original watercolor paintings of baby birds. The largest collection in the Rare Book Room is of the works of Christophe-Paulin de la Poix, Chevalier de Fréminville (1787-1848). There are three volumes of his illustrations of insects, containing over 1,000 drawings of species around the world. In addition, the library holds 95 other original works by Fréminville.

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Collections

Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), curator of Asian Anthropology from 1908 to 1934, was a pioneer in the study of Asian cultures.  During his tenure at The Field Museum he made significant contributions to the collections of both Anthropology and the Library.
Edward E. Ayer, the first president of the Field Museum, has been the principal benefactor of the Library. The Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room holds his comprehensive ornithological library, cataloged by John Todd Zimmer in 1926, and Ayer’s fine collection of books on...
John James Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827-1838) is probably the most famous of all bird books.