| Archives | Hancock
The Building of a Library
Coranto: journal of the
Friends of the Libraries, University of Southern California
Volume V Number
1 & 2 to Volume VI Number 1, 1967-1969
Halmos (d. 1998) was Librarian of the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography
from the mid 1940s through the 1970s. Her mark on USC is evidenced in the following
article, which appeared from 1967 to 1969, in the Coranto: journal of the Friends
of the Libraries. It recounts the development of the library of the Boston
Society of Natural History, which is the foundation of the Hancock Natural History
University of Southern California is fortunate to posses, as the basis of its
of Biology and Oceanography, one of the outstanding natural history libraries
in this country. It was purchased by Captain G. Allan Hancock for the Allan Hancock
Foundation, the foreign serials and journals in 1944 and the books and domestic
serials and journals in 1946, when the library was already over a hundred years
old. To appreciate the collection fully, it is important to know something of
its history and how and by whom it was built up over the years.
From the discovery of the New World, so wonderfully opened up for settlement and
trade, there was much interest in its natural history. The very earliest reports
were contained in general expositions on the advantages and possibilities of the
area, such as Thomas Harriots A Briefe and True Report of the New Found
Land of Virginia, London, 1588. Then naturalists from England and Europe either
managed to come over and spend from a few months to several years studying the
flora and fauna of the new country, or hired others to collect specimens for them;
so that in addition to the general treatises, a few books began to appear which
were devoted exclusively to the natural history of the new continent: for example,
John Josselyns New-Englands Rarities Discovered, London, 1672; Mark
Catesbys The Natural
History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, London, 1731-43 (2
vols., with 220 colored plates); J. F. Gronovius Flora Virginia,
Leyden 1739-43; and J. E. Smith and John Abbots The natural History of
the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, London, 1797.
Books of travel also appeared, containing much valuable information concerning
the land and its products; and articles were published in learned journals, especially
in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal society of London. But all
these were published abroad and were for the most part difficult to obtain in
America. In 1727 Benjamin Franklin established in Philadelphia the American Philosophical
Society to encourage the study of the arts and sciences and to provide a forum
where scholars might exchange ideas. Not too much came from the Society in its
early years, but gradually a few books began to appear, written and printed here.
The first natural history publications were treatises useful in either medicine
or agriculture, such as an American edition of Thomas Shorts Medica Britannica,
with a preface by Mr. John Bartram, and His Notes Throughout the work, Showing
the Places Where Many of the Described Plants Are To Be Found in These Parts of
America, Philadelphia, printed and sold by B. Franklin, 1751; or local lists
such as that compiled by Jeremy Belknap, with the assistance of W. D. Peck and
Manasseh Cutler, in the third volume of his History of New England, Philadelphia,
such publications as William Bartrams Travels Through North and South Carolina,
Georgia, East and West Florida, Philadelphia, 1791; Benjamin S. Bartons
Fragments of the Natural History of Pennsylvania, Part I, Philadelphia, 1799;
and that great work of Alexander Wilson, accomplished in the face of obstacles
and discouragements that would have defeated a lesser man, his American Ornithology,
9 vols., Philadelphia, 1808-14. These works gave a tremendous impetus to the study
and appreciation of the natural history of the country. Geological surveys were
made by many of the states, and a few courses were offered in the colleges. This
led to a demand for textbooks, and some were written by American naturalists;
others, of English and European origin, were reprinted in this country. But as
T. T. Bouvé could say in the 1830s: "Everything except the will to
learn, was wanting - books, teachers, and collections..." In 1876 Bouvé,
an iron manufacturer who was a member of the Boston Society of Natural History
(to which we will come in a moment) for more than sixty years, declared in a presidential
address: "Few of you, now having books at your command treating fully of every
branch of Natural History ... can have an idea of the great want felt by those
of us in the days referred to, lacking all these, and also the means to acquire
were very few in those early days of our countrys history who were full-time
naturalists, and they were usually considered by their neighbors to be improvident
and queer - see any contemporary account of Wilson, Rafinesque, or Audubon. Most
of the interest and support in the field came from men who had their own professions,
usually medicine or the Church, often law or business, and could devote only their
spare time to the study of natural history. some had been able to acquire a few
rare and valuable books, but most of them had no way of finding out what had been
done or what was already known. Those who had correspondents abroad could sometimes
persuade them to copy out by hand parts of books unobtainable here but containing
information they badly needed. It was to be expected that certain of these gentlemen,
already united by a common interest, should band together to see if they could
accomplish as a group that which was beyond their ability as individuals - to
build up adequate collections of specimens and a library containing all of the
books they needed to consult in their studies.
The first strictly natural history organization in this country was the Academy
of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, established in 1812. This institution at
once began to build up a library, and a catalogue was issued in 1837 listing 6,
890 volumes, about half of them being in the field of natural history.
Two years later, in 1814, a group of eleven men met in Boston at the home of Dr.
Jacob Bigelow, the eminent classical scholar, to consider the founding of a society
there fore the study of natural history and the formation of a museum to house
their growing collections. From this meeting came the Linnaean society of New
England, a forerunner of the Boston Society of Natural History. In its attempt
to build up a useful museum of specimens, the Linnaean Society succeeded too well
for its own good; for so numerous did the specimens become that it had to rent
a place large enough to house them. And as the collections increased, more time
was needed to arrange and care for them. But ht e members were all men who were
busy with their own affairs and they simply did not have the time to devote to
this work; and to hire curators was expensive. For several years the Society managed
somehow to raise the money it needed. Once a Captain Stewart of the U. S. frigate
Constitution presented it with two live tigers, ending them in the car
of "Mr. Savage." Whether the Society was more fortunate in receiving them or in
losing them it might be difficult to say. For lost they were, and Mr. Savage was
held responsible; and from the money he paid in settlement of the Societys
claim came enough to pay the rent. But by 1823 the struggle was too great and
the collections were offered to the Corporation of Harvard College on condition
that a building should be erected to house them and the members of the Society
given free access to them. This really was the end of the Linnaean Society, although
it remained a corporate body and its members were called together again after
the founding of the Boston Society of Natural History for the purpose of recovering
from Harvard such of its collections as were worth presenting to the new Society.
As Harvard had not fulfilled the conditions of the transfer, and indeed had taken
no care of the collections at all, they were able to recover all that remained
- a pitiful remnant of a once outstanding collection.
From a study of the history of the Linnaean Society, we readily perceive its great
weakness - a weakness that has been the downfall of many other societies established
with high hopes: lack of money for staff and housing. The members were all earnest
and intensely interested in the Society; they spent freely of what time they had
available and worked hard to make a success of the undertaking. But the accumulation
of important resources either of specimens or books, or both, demands adequate
space to house them properly and sufficient trained staff to care for and service
them. Volunteer help, no matter how enthusiastic, is not enough; and inadequate
care and improper housing cause deterioration and, in the end, nearly complete
loss of all that has been built up with so much labor and care. As the Boston
Society of Natural History was established by men who had been members of the
earlier group, one might have expected them to realize the danger and take steps
to avoid the causes of the collapse of the Linnaean Society; but they did not,
and it was only its good fortune in finding at crucial moments sponsors who could
and did find the necessary funds that enabled the Boston Society of Natural History
February, 1830, a group of seven men, three of whom had been instrumental in establishing
the Linnaean Society of New England, met at the home of Walter Channing to discuss
the possibility of organizing a new society for the study and encouragement of
natural history. Channing, a younger brother of William Ellery Channing, the famous
Unitarian clergyman and reformer, was a professor in the Harvard Medical School.
In May, 1830, a constitution and by-laws were adopted, officers elected, and a
name agreed upon. In January, 1831, because of the great lack of books on natural
history and as "this Society [considered] a library of works essential to its
success," the members voted to establish such a library to receive what books
might be given by the members. They also appropriated a small sum for the purchase,
"after fulfilling their obligations already incurred," of the best elementary
books in the various branches of natural history. The qualifying phrase meant
that for many years the library received no money from the Boston Society, as
it never had any left over after its bills were paid, and, indeed, usually ended
each year in debt.
According to the report at the annual meeting in May, 1831, the library had received
from seven members thirty volumes and two pamphlets. In July of that same year
came the gift from Joseph Coolidge, Jr., of a complete set of the American
Journal of Science, which had begun publication in 1818. The Lyceum of Natural
History of New York sent its Annals, published since 1823. Gifts of books
continued to come in from members and friends, but slowly. At the summer meeting
of 1833 the librarian reported that more than seventy volumes had been received
during the year. In 1835 he told the council of the Society that the case in which
the books were housed would hold no more volumes. He had hoped that a room on
the fourth floor would be fitted up for the library, but all he got was the case
in which the corals had been kept. What became of the corals is not known.
To emphasize the prevailing conditions at the time of the founding of the Boston
Society of Natural History, I quote from an eloquent statement by Samuel H. Scudder,
paleontologist, entomologist, and librarian of the Society for many years:
At the time of the establishment
of the Society there was not, I believe, in New England an institution devoted
to the study of Natural History. There was not a college in New England, excepting
Yale, where philosophical geology of the modern school was taught. There was not
a work extant by a New England author which presumed to grasp the geological structure
of any portion of our territory of greater extent than a county. There was not
in existence a bare catalogue, to say nothing of a general history, of the animals
of Massachusetts, of any class. There was not within our borders a single museum
of natural history founded according to the requirements and based upon the system
of modern science, nor a single journal advocating exclusively its interests.
We were dependent
chiefly upon books and authors foreign to New England for our knowledge of our
own Zoology. There was no one among us who had anything like a general knowledge
of the birds which fly about us, of the fishes which fill our waters, or of the
lower tribes of animals that swarm both in air and in the sea.
Some few individuals there were, distinguished by high attainments in particular
branches, and who formed honorable exceptions to the indifference which prevailed;
but there was o concentration of opinions or of knowledge, and no means of knowing
how much or how little was known. The laborers in natural history worked alone,
without aid or encouragement from others engaged in the same pursuits, and without
the approbation of the public mind, which regarded them as busy triflers.
In 1837 the Society published a catalogue of its library, listing 314 titles,
of which all but about twenty had been donated. Among the rarer items that had
been given we find the following: John James Audubon, The
Birds of America, 3 vols., London, 1827-36. The double elephant folio
edition, as far as it had progressed to that time. The gift of eleven members
who subscribed to the work for the Society.
John James Audubon, Ornithological Biography, or, An Account of the Habits
of the Birds of the United States of America, Vols. 1-2, Philadelphia, 1831:
Vol. 3, Edinburgh, 1835. Gift of the author.
Peter Artedi, Synonymia piscium graeca et latina emendata, aucta atque illustrata,
Leipzig, 1789. Gift of the Hon. John Davis.
Robert Boyle, Philosophical Works, 3 vols., London, 1725. Gift of the Hon.
de rebus gestis in scientis naturali et medicinae gestis, 40 vols., Leipzig, 1752-94.
Gift of Charles Amory.
Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca botanica, London, 1771. Gift of seventeen
members who purchased and presented to the library twenty-one titles in all.
Carolus Linnaeus, Systema naturae, per regna tria naturae, cura J. F. Gmeliln,
3 vols. in 10, Leyden, 1789-96. Gift of Samuel E. Foster.
Carolus Linnaeus, Flora lapponica, London, 1792. Gift of Benjamin D. Greene.
André Michaux, The North American Sylva, 2 vols., Paris, 1819. Gift
of Charles Amory.
Thomas Pennant, Arctic Zoology, 2 vols., London, 1784-85. Gift of Henry
Plumier, Nova plantarum americanarum genera, Paris, 1703. Gift of Edward
Ray, Catalogus plantarum angliae, et insularum adjacentium, London, 1679.
Gift of Edward Tuckerman.
John Ray, Synopsis methodica stirpium britannicarum, London, 1724. Gift
of Edward Tuckerman.
1839 the Society received a bequest of $10,000 from the estate of Ambrose S. Courtis,
a businessman who had been very interested in its work. The members agreed to
divide the income from this bequest into three parts: one for publication, one
for the collections, and one for the library. Unfortunately, current expenses
usually absorbed most of the income and publications took the rest, leaving little
or nothing for the library and the collections.
In 1840 the library received several books on natural history from the estate
of Mr. Simon E. Greene, one of the founders of the Society and its first treasurer.
In this year also. Col. Thomas H. Perkins presented a magnificent and beautifully-bound
set of Audubons Birds of America, the double elephant folio edition,
now complete in four volumes (1827-38). By the time of the annual meeting in May,
1840, the library contained 660 volumes and many pamphlets, almost all of the
acquired through the gifts of members and friends. Another source of Library material,
to become important as the years went by, was the exchange of publications with
other institutions made possible by the publication of the Boston Journal of
Natural History, begun in 1834.
At the end of its first en years the Society was free from debt, but at the cost
of too-stringent economy in the care of the collections (which resulted in the
loss of many important specimens later), of very little money spent on the library,
and of the use for current expenses of income from what it had desired to be a
"special fund" - the Courtis bequest. It was obvious that the society badly needed
to be put on a more secure financial footing.
The second decade saw a much greater increase in the library, although still very
little money was available for the purchase of books. The income the library received
from the Courtis Fund was carefully and wisely spent, not only for books but also
for subscriptions to a few greatly-needed journals. Another source of funds came
from Col. Perkins gift of Audubons Birds of America. Since
one copy had already been provided for the library, that previous set, with the
consent of the donors, was sold to Messrs. Little and Brown, of the publishing
firm of that name, and the proceeds used to purchase other ornithological books
for the library.
In 1843, ten members subscribed to Audubons Quadrupeds of the United
States; and in 1845 Dr. Francis Boott of London presented over fifty volumes,
among them such valuable works as Jacobus Barrelierus, Plantae per galliam, hispaniam
et italiam, Paris, 1714; Marcello Malpighi, Opera omnia, London, 1687; and two
works published at Antwerp by Plantin: Matthias de lObel, Plantarum,
seu stirpium historia, 1576, and Pierre Pena and lObel, Nova stirpium
adversaria, 1576. Dr. Boott was born in Boston and was a friend and associate
of Jacob Bigelow. In London he not only practiced as a physician but also lectured
on botany and materia medica. After his retirement, he devoted himself to the
study of botany and became the foremost authority on the sedge genus Carex.
In the reports
of the various departments for 1846, many complaints were made about the shortage
of space. Donations were not being offered, or had to be refused, because there
was o room to house them. Accordingly, a campaign was begun to raise money to
purchase a new home for the Society and a committee was appointed to locate a
suitable building. One such was found in Mason Street. The money was raised for
its purchase and remodeling, and in 1848 the Society moved into its new home.
The library room was described as a "cosy one" where in the afternoons some of
the curators were usually to be found. The room was also used for the meetings
of the Society and sometimes as a lecture "hall" in the evening.
At the first meeting in the new building, the members adopted the following:
Resolved, That each
individual member be requested to consider what books, if any, he can spare from
his private collection, and make more extensively useful by adding them to the
Library of the Society; and that he be requested so to deposit them, either as
a gift or under such conditions as he may see fit.
this resolution had an effect one may assume from the library accession records
of the following year, which show eleven titles presented by Dr. S. Kneeland,
about the same number from Dr. N. B. Shurtleff, five from Mr. S. G. Drake, nine
from Dr. John Bacon, Jr., ten from Thomas Bulfinch, of The Age of Fable fame,
as well as many others presented by various members. Among the valuable works
received in this way, the following titles may be especially noted: Erasmus Darwin,
Zoonomia, London, 1801; P. A. Latreille, Mémoires sur divers
sujets de lhistoire naturelle, Paris, 1819; E. Mendes da Costa, Natural
History of Fossils, London, 1757; and Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature,
or, The Natural History of Insects, London, 1758.
In 1849 an association called the Republican Institution proposed to place in
the library of the Boston Society all of the books it owned and turn over to the
library half of a fund it administered, for the purchase of books in the natural
sciences, provided it could use the other half to purchase books in other fields,
such as history and politics, and deposit them also in the library. Members of
the Institution would be given free access to the augmented library. This offer
was gladly accepted and $1,3000 was allocated for the purchase of books. Among
those deposited by the Republican Institution were many important titles in the
natural sciences, including:
Gould, Icones Avium, or Figures and Descriptions of New and Interesting Birds
from Various Parts of the Globe, 2 parts, London, 1837-1838.
Sir W. J. Hooker, The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage of H. M. Discovery Ships
Erebus and Terror in the Years 1839-1843, Nos. 1-17, London, 1845.
Sir W. J. Hooker, Icones Plantarum, or Figures of New or Rare Plants, Vols.
1-4, London, 1837.
William Kirby, Monographia apum angliae, 2 vols., Ipswich, 1802.
Ludwig Pfeiffer, Monographia heliceorum viventium, Fasc. 1-7, Leipzig,
D. de Freycinet, Voyage autour du monde sur les corvettes de S. M. lUranie
et la Physicienne, pendant les années 1817-1820. Zoologie, 2 vols.
, Paris, 1824.
R. B. Hinds, Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Sulphur During the Years 1836-1842,
2 vols., Paris, 1839.
C. P. T. Laplace, Voyage autour du monde par les mers de lInde et de
Chine executé sur la corvette la Favorite pendant les années 1830-1832,
2 vols., Paris, 1839.
By the end of 1850 the library contained 2,569 bound volumes, 1,280 unbound volumes,
and 500 pamphlets and reprints. The Society had raised the money to purchase a
new home, had taken care of current expenses, and for once had a free balance
- of $200. But the library and the collections were suffering severely from lack
of money to care for them properly. Although this was a problem the Society was
never able to solve completely, many steps could be taken to alleviate the situation.
But a discussion of these steps and of other forward-looking measures must be
postponed until the second installment of this brief history of a distinguished
2: Volume V Number 2, 1968
1852 the Boston Society of Natural History was twenty-two years of age, while
its library (now the basis of the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography)
was only a few months younger. The Society had a newly-purchased, if modest home;
but the library, possessing some 5,000 books, volumes of periodicals, and pamphlets,
was suffering acutely from a lack of funds to care for them properly and to add
to its holdings as rapidly as it would have liked.
There were, of course, certain steps that could be taken. At the annual meeting
in May, 1852, the librarian recommended a more liberal attitude toward exchange:
with these Societies hitherto has been too expensive and difficult to justify
the sending many copies of our Journal and Proceedings abroad; but the recent
arrangements of the Smithsonian Institution, at Washington, will enable us hereafter
to communicate with Societies in all parts of the world without difficulty, and
at no greater expense than the cost of transportation to Washington. Of the two
hundred Societies in correspondence with that Institution, at least one hundred
publish works of value to us, which could easily be obtained in exchange for our
With a more liberal policy approved, the librarian was able to set up many new
exchanges, but he was soon complaining that because of the interval between issues
of the Journal (once as much as four years), it was hard to keep the exchanges
coming. Of special interest to Californians is the request made n 1854 for permission
to send a set of the publications of the Boston Society to "a newly established
society of San Francisco" - the California Academy of Sciences, organized in 1853
and starting immediately to build up a library.
In 1855 the librarian reported that since the erection of a theatre building next
door, the library room was no longer "cosy" but very dark and damp, uncomfortable
to work in and injurious to the books. He also had two complaints to make that
sound only too familiar. First, he did not have time to keep up with all the work
and needed help; second, although he was present in the library every day from
9 to 12, books were taken from the room at other times with no record left; and
although they usually came back eventually, there was some loss. The Council voted
$100 for assistance in making a catalogue of the library, and this task was completed
within a year; but beyond asking members to be more considerate, nothing was done
about the second problem.
During this decade, the library was greatly enriched by many gifts of valuable
works. In 1854 the Hon. Francis C. Gray presented the first three volumes, beautifully
bound, of the Histoire naturelle des mamifères, by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
et Cuvier, Paris, 1824-47. In 1855 the library received a bequest from the late
Mr. James Brown, of the publishing firm of Little, Brown, who left ornithological
books of great interest. These included sixteen handsome folio volumes of John
Gould, sometimes called the "English Audubon" - his Birds of Europe, 5
vols., 1837; Birds of Australia, 7 vols., 1848; A Century of Birds from
the Himalaya Mountains, 1831; A Monograph of the Rhamphastidae, or Family
of Toucans, 1834; and A Monograph of the Odontophorinae, or Partridges
of America, 1850.
In November 1856, Mrs. M. A. Binney offered to deposit, under certain conditions
of preservation and use, 353 titles in 1,145 volumes, including pamphlets and
reprints, from the library of the late Dr. Amos Binney. The conditions were accepted
and the books were added to the library in 1857, certain large slabs of fossil
impressions having been removed from the library to make space for them - proving
that trying to keep the faculty out of any spare corner of the library not filled
up with books is not a modern problem. The catalogue of the Binney library is
printed in the Proceedings of the Boston Society, and lists such rare and valuable
books as the following:
Ulisse Aldrovandi, Opera omnia, 13 vols. Bonn, 1599-1669.
Petrus Artedi, Ichthyologia, ed. C. Linnaeus, Leyden, 1738.
Joseph Banks, Catalogus bibliothecae historico-naturalis Josephi Banks ...
auctore Jona Dryander, 5 vols., London, 1796-1800.
William Bartram, Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and
West Florida, Philadelphia, 1791.
Thomas Bewick, A General History of Quadrupeds, Newcastle, 1790.
Georges Buffon, Histoire naturelle, 17 vols. and 7 supplementary vols.,
Charles Darwin, The Zoology of the Beagle, 5 vols., London, 1839-43.
Conrad Gesner, Historia animalium, 5 vols. in 3, Zürich, 1551-87.
On the flyleaf of the first volume is this inscription: "Ce superbe exemplaire
de la plus parfaite conservation et très compet est celui de Buffon. Je
lai payé 84 L. Is. à la vent des livres de Mirabeau le jeudi
26. Janvier 1792. Voyez le catalogue de cette vente No. -1206-"
William Jardin and P. J. Selby, Illustrations of Ornithology, 3 vols.,
William Smellie, The Philosophy of Natural History, Edinburgh, 1790.
Francis Willughby, Ornithologiae libris tres, London, 1676.
In the same year the library received another valuable bequest, from the estate
of the late Prof. J. W. Bailey. It was reported to the Society in the following
The whole number of bound volumes ins eighty-four, besides one hundred and fifty
unbound volumes and pamphlets, and these latter are not the least valuable portion
of the library...Among the works are the splendid Microgeologie of Ehrenberg,
the works of Kützing, Queckett, Ralfe, Hassell, Smith, Agardh, Harvey, Lindley,
the books included in this bequest is one of the rarest the library possesses:
Illustrationes algarum in itinere cira orbem jussu imeratoris Nicolai I ...
annis 1826, 1827, 1828 et 1829 ... in oceano pacifico imprimis septentrionali
ad littore Rossica asiatico-americana collectarum. Auctoribus Prof. Alexandro
Postels et Doct. Francisco Ruprecht, Petrograd, 1840. This volume, printed
in Latin and Russian, is a double elephant folio and contains forty exceptionally
beautiful hand-colored plates of Pacific coast algae, as on this voyage the Russians
sailed down our northwest coast almost as far south as San Francisco.
In 1859 an event occurred which was to influence the course of the Boston Society
in the years to come. Professor Louis Agassiz had amassed a splendid zoological
collection which had been purchased in 1852 by Harvard College. In 1859 the Museum
of Comparative Zoology was incorporated to receive this collection, as well as
a bequest from Francis C. Gray of $50,000 to establish and maintain such a Museum
under the charge of an independent faculty. Professor Agassiz received a grant
of $1000,000 from the state, over $70,000 was raised by private subscription,
a building was erected, faculty appointed, and the Museum established on a solid
basis. From the very beginning there was close cooperation between the Museum
and the Society, as almost all of the faculty and curators of the Museum were
also members of the Society, and most of them had been active in it for years.
In 1860 the Society
library was presented, through the generosity of J. P. Cushing, with 300 volumes
on entomology from the library of the late Thaddeus W. Harris. The Proceedings
Mr. Scudder, Curator of Entomology, observed that among the volumes was one containing
all the rarer tracts of Say, most of which were extremely scarce; among them his
New Harmony pamphlets, one of which (on the Heteropterous Hemiptera of North America)
is probably the only copy in this country, if indeed it can be found anywhere
else...Most of the important European works are here...together with nearly complete
sets of most of the publications of entomological societies and entomological
the end of 1860 the library contained nearly 5,000 volumes, plus 681 pamphlets
and reprints, most of them of great value and by far the greater number gifts
from members and friends of the Society. It became obvious that the Society again
needed more room, and committees were appointed to make plans and raise the necessary
funds. The state legislature granted to the Society some land on which to erect
a building; and the state also purchased for $28,000 the building occupied by
the Society, which then moved temporarily into one which it owned on Bulfinche
Street. Mr. W. J. Walker, who had come to the assistance of the Society before,
offered $20,000 toward the building fund, provided the members could raise a matching
amount. This they were able to do, and in the fall of 1863 the building was so
far advanced that the library could be moved into it, and the Society met there
for the first time on November 18 of that year. This was a remarkable accomplishment,
especially when one realizes that a large portion of the Societys membership
(ninety-eight of them) were serving in the armed forces at the time.
The estate of Benjamin D. Greene yielded over 1,500 volumes in 1863. A complete
catalogue of the collection, which was mainly botanical, was printed in the Proceedings.
The following titles may give some idea of the extent and richness of this bequest:
Kaspar Bauhin, Theatri botanici, sive index in Theophrasti Dioscoridis, Plinii
et botanicorum qui a secula scripserunt, Basel, 1671; Thomas Bewick, A
History of British Birds, 2 vols., Newcastle, 1797; C. L. Bonaparte, American
Ornithology, 4 vols., Philadelphia, 1825-33; L. A. G. Bosc, Histoire naturelle
des crustacés, 2 vols., Paris, 1830; William Curtis, Flora londinensis,
2 vols., London, 1777-98, bearing the following manuscript note on the flyleaf:
"This copy was coloured by the author with his own hand expressly for the Marchioness
of Bath"; Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles, 60 vols. of text and 11
of plates, Strassburg and Paris, 1816-30; Nehemiah Grew, The Anatomy of Plants,
London, 1682; J. E. Holbrook, North American Herpetology, 5 vols., Philadelphia,
1842; J. D. Hooker, The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya, London, 1848-51;
A. de Humboldt & A. Bonpland, Nova genera et species plantarum, 7 vols.,
Paris, 1815-25; C. Linnaeus, Hortus cliffortianus, Amsterdam, 1737; Charles
Plumier, Plantaru americanarum, Amsterdam, 1755; P. J. Redouté,
Les Liliacées, 8 vols., Paris, 1802-16; John Sibthorp, Flora
graeca, 10 vols., London, 1806-40; and W. Yarrell, History of British Fishes,
2 vols., London, 1836.
Charles K. Dillaway, who had been librarian since 1833, resigned in 1864 and was
succeeded by Samuel H. Scudder. Under the latters direction the exchange
list was greatly expanded and many back files of serials and periodicals were
obtained from other institutions. In 1865 Scudder reported that 237 pieces had
bee added to the library through exchange; by 1870 the number would rise to 1,709.
Exchanges gradually became the most important source of library accessions.
1865 was a year of hope. With the end of the war, men could turn with renewed
energy to the problems of science and learning. In the library, duplicates were
weeded out and sold or exchanged for books or parts of sets, and much valuable
material was thus secured. This year also saw the receipt of an endowment of $5,000
in memory of Huntington Frothingham Wolcott, killed in the fighting at the age
of nineteen. The gift was made by the young mans father, who later added
$4,000 to it. As it was agreed that a percentage of the income should be added
to the principal each year, the library now had a small but growing endowment
the income from which could be used for binding and for the purchase of books.
The library hours
were increased, the doors now being kept open from 10 to 1 oclock and from
2 to 5; and a full-time library assistant was hired. According to the report of
the librarian, the library needed catalogue trays with rods to hold the library
catalogue; an "alcove catalog," or what we would call a shelf list, to make reading
the shelves easier; money for binding; money for making a catalogue of the pamphlets
and reprints; money for completing broken sets, especially of foreign serials;
money for weather-stripping the windows to keep out drafts and dirt. The Society
did what it could - gave money for binding over a thousand volumes, for hiring
more help to make the "alcove catalogue", for fill-in in sets. Still the work
piled up. At the time of the annual meeting in the summer of 1870, the library
contained 9,396 bound or complete volumes and 2,677 pamphlets and reprints, many
of them not yet catalogued.
3 - Volume VI Number 1
Two developments in the 1860s foreshadowed a change of emphasis in the work
of the Boston Society of Natural History. The museum was now opened to the public
free of charge two days a week; and the Society for the first time provided a
course of lectures for the public school teachers of the Boston area. In 1870
a study was made to determine the best course for the society to follow during
the coming years. After much discussion a new policy was adopted - it was decided
to limit the library accessions to the field of natural history, and to build
up in each department of the museum special collections of New England material.
The lectures for teachers, and the special arrangements with the schools in the
area whereby the students could use the museum and the library, also showed the
growing interest in science education. It is true that the custodian, Mr. S. H.
Scudder, could say in 1870:
Our Society has thus a double office to fulfill, and neither part can be neglected
without detriment to both. Let it open to the public a museum fitted for study
and showing, by the nicest devices, the meaning of nature; let it set forth these
truths in lectures, from which practically none shall be debarred; but at the
same time give the more thorough students an opportunity to meet for mutual discussion,
a library in which to consult the investigations of their fellow students in all
parts of the world, and as prompt and satisfactory a channel for the publication
of their own researches as any kindred institution affords.
And in 1880, President Eliot of Harvard declared:
This Society has two distinct objects - (I) the promotion of Natural History by
stimulating and aiding advanced study and original research, and (2) the enlightenment
of the common people concerning animate and inanimate nature.
Nevertheless, the time
was fast approaching when the Society could not afford to pursue both goals at
once. For many years the emphasis had been upon research; now, especially since
the founding of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, other institutions could take
on that responsibility, and the Society could concentrate on the exhibition and
study of the geology and flora and fauna of New England, with special attention
The library continued to grow, mainly through donations and exchanges, and each
year the report of the librarian listed approximately the same needs - space,
staff, money for binding, money for filling in incomplete sets, money to purchase
current publications. A gallery was added to the back room; small amounts of money
were given by members and patrons to help in the binding program. Gifts continued
to be received: a nearly complete set of the Novara expedition , from the
Austrian government; a large and valuable collection of books, chiefly botanical,
from the Hon. G. B. Emerson, containing many rare volumes. Included in the latter
were Johann Bauhin, Historia plantarum universalis, nova et absolutissima,
3 vols., Ebroduni, 1650-51; and Duhamel du Monceau, Traité des arbres
et arbustes, 7 vols., Paris, 1800-19. By 1800 the library had over 14,000
volumes and 6,000 reprints and pamphlets.
Exchange materials, especially serial publications and periodicals, became more
and more important. The only money regularly available for the purchase of books
and for binding was the income from the trust fund, about $500 a year, "really
pitiable, when we...remember that a good library is the sine qua non of
scientific progress and study." Gifts continued to be received - from S. H. Scudder,
Prof. J. O. Westwood of England, Samuel Henshaw, Dr. C. S. Minot, and Professor
Hyatt; from the estate of the late Dr. Samuel Cabot; conchological books from
Mr. E. R. Mayo; one hundred and twenty volumes from the library of the late Robert
C. Waterston. By 1900 the library had 25,629 bound volumes, 1,401 "incomplete"
volumes, and 13,311 pamphlets and reprints. The trust fund had been augmented
by a gift of $5,000; some money for binding had been given by members. The number
of exchanges had increased by 435.
By 1920 the library had almost doubled in size, with over 90,000 volumes, including
pamphlets and reprints. Of the additions, over 1,300 items were received as a
bequest from the estate of Alpheus Hyatt; 8,615 came from S. H. Scudder, seventy
more from the estate of Mr. Waterston, thirty-one from Prof. A. S. Packard, over
one hundred from the estate of Miss Cora H. Clarke. William Brewster bequeathed
his library, consisting mainly of books on ornithology. Mr. Kidder gave generously
for binding, and for new lighting fixtures and furniture - including the steel
case in which the Audubon volumes were (and still are) kept. Among the many valuable
books presented in the library during this period are the following:
Nicolò Gualtieri, Index testarum conchyliorum, Florence, 1742. From
the library of Amos Binney, purchased for the library by E. R. Mayo.
Jacob Hübner, Sammlung exotischer Schmetterlinge, Augsburg, 1806-24;
and Beiträge zur Geschichte der Schmetterlinge, Augsburg, 1786-90.
Two of many books by Hübner from the Scudder library.
Howard Jones, Illustrations of the Newsts and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, Circleville,
Ohio, 1886. According to Casey Wood, among the rarest as well as the most beautiful
of bird books. Not more than ninety copies were printed; the subscription list
includes thirty-nine names. From the library of the late William Brewster.
Carl Ludwig Koch, Deutschlands Crustaceen, Myriapoden und Arachnida, Regensburg,
1835-44. Gift of Mr. C. S. Fellows.
Pierre Lyonet, Traité anatomique de la chenille, The Hague, 1782.
Gift of Mr. Scudder.
F. H. W. Martini and J. H. Chemnitz, Neues systematisches Conchylien-Cabinet,
12 vols., Nuremberg, 1769-1829. Purchased for the library of E. R. Mayo from the
Amos Binney library.
Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion, Philadelphia, 1887. Nearly 700 of
the plates from this work, presented by Prof. W. P. Wilson of Philadelphia.
Felipe Poey y Aloy, Centurie de lépidoptères de lIle de
Cuba, Paris, 1832. Gift of Mr. Scudder.
Lovell Augustus Reeve, Conchologia systematica, 2 vols., London, 1841-42.
Presented by E. R. Mayo.
Philip Lutley Sclater, Argentine Ornithology, 2 vols., London, 1888-89.
Between 1920 and 1930, when the Society celebrated its centennial, the library
holdings increased to 52,110 volumes and 47,149 reprints and pamphlets. There
were 650 exchanges - 200 domestic and 450 foreign. The amount of money available
for books and binding was very small, but exchanges and gifts kept the quality
of the librarys holdings high. It was becoming more and more difficult,
however, to keep pace with the bare necessities in binding and in purchasing needed
books and journals. Also, the question of space was again becoming acute for the
library, as it was for the museum. The library had not only grown in size; it
had been opened to the general public. And by 1930 the staff and the library resources
in the more current and popular works were both obviously inadequate to meet the
volume sounded a note of urgency:
... our immediate task is to escape from the congestion caused through lack of
accommodation for our collections and for the students who seek information from
them... Our Society...has inherited an important function of leadership in the
Members immediately set about making plans for the new building which they so
desperately needed. In 1931 the Council announced that they required a minimum
of $1,750,000 and so far had raised a little under $72,000. And still the expenses
mounted. In 1935 the Society showed an operating deficit of over $20,000.
All the time the museum was becoming increasingly important and the planning of
the Council concentrated more and more on the collections, the popular education
of the public in science, and work with the schools. In 1936 we find for the first
time on the masthead of the Bulletin: "The New England Museum of Natural
History, Operated by the Boston Society of Natural History."
A few years more and the die was cast. The Society would divorce itself from its
more erudite functions, discontinue its scholarly publications, and sell the research
portion of its library. The main activity of the Society now centered in the New
England Museum of Natural History, later to be called the Boston Museum of Science.
In 1951 the Museum moved into its new building on the Charles River; and there,
to the natural history exhibits were to be added others in the fields of physical
science, industry, public health, anthropology, and ethnology.
Meanwhile, the library had continued to grow, largely through its exchanges (which
now numbered about 750); but also through gifts and purchases, which account for
such unusual titles as Fabio Colonna, Opusculum der Purpura, Kiliae, 1675;
C. W. J. Gatterer, Breviarum zoologiae, Pars I, mammalia, Göttingen,
1780; Nehemiah Grew, Musaeum regalis societats, London, 1681; Friedrich
Martens, Viaggio di Spizerga o Gronlanda, Bologna, 1680; J. D. Schoepf,
Historia testudinum, Erlangen, 1792; and Godofredus Sellius, Historia
naturalis Teredinis, Utrecht, 1733. By 1944 holdings amounted to about 80,000
volumes and 100,000 reprints and pamphlets. There were almost incredible riches
in old and rare books and in long runs of natural history periodicals and the
publications of scientific societies. Well might the librarian of the Boston Society
say in one of her reports that the library contained so many treasures that even
the staff did not begin to know them all. Through the devotion of the members
and their appreciation of the importance of a good library, through long years
of patient work by the librarians in initiating and carrying through exchanges
with other institutions, there was built up a library which, now transplanted
to the west coast of the United States (specifically, to the Hancock Library of
Biology and Oceanography, USC), still brings exclamations of joy and astonishment;
and which is known and valued, not only here, but wherever biological and geological
research is carried on.