About the Museum Library's Rare Book Collection

The images you'll see in the Natural Histories exhibition are reproduced from volumes in the Museum's Rare Book Collection.  Including more than 14,000 volumes, some dating to the 1400s, the collection is comprised of books that were scientifically influential at the time—and remain so today. 

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1667) depicted meticulous illustrations of a flea and other minute creatures that foretold a new chapter in natural history, in which organisms could be classified according to precisely detailed descriptions of their anatomy—even the tiniest. 

Black-and-white illustration of a flea from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1667).

© AMNH/D. Finnin

The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1839-1843), a five-volume work edited by Charles Darwin, depicted specimens Darwin collected during his travels on H.M.S. Beagle. (That journey, of course, would become a foundation for Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.) In the exhibition you'll see an image of a Rhea pennata, a flightless bird native to South America, drawn by John Gould and reproduced as a lithograph. 

Darwin's Rhea Natural Histories

© AMNH/D. Finnin

During the course of the exhibition, various rare books—including works with images featured in Natural Histories and many never before seen by the public—will be displayed on a rotating basis outside the entrance of the Museum’s Research Library on the fourth floor.