Special Collections

Natural History Books

Noël Antoine Pluche, 1688-1761.
Spectacle de la nature; or, Nature Display'd; Illustrated from copper plates. London: Printed for J. Pemberton, 1735.

Spectacle de la nature, is an eight-volume study of life and creation that was translated into virtually all European languages well into the nineteenth century. The work, a popular rather than a scientific study, was said to have influenced many students to become naturalists.


Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, 1707-1788.
Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. A Paris: De l'Imprimerie de F. Dufart, an 8 1798-1808.

A massive work of 127 volumes, the Histoire included everything known about the natural world up until that date. Buffon was among the first to create a theory of science that was free of theological influence. He understood the concept of geological time and that animals changed over time. Charles Darwin credited Buffon as being the first scientist to treat the concept of natural selection in a scientific manner.

The volumes contain over a thousand engraved plates, most by Jacques de Sève, father and son. The illustrations range in style from exact anatomical drawings to images of animals in their natural settings. These illustrations became a major source of information about the visual appearance of creatures that inhabited every continent.


From the Miniature Book Collections

Prints of Natural History: with Descriptions. London: John Marshall, 1802.

Alfred Mills, 1776-1833.
Natural History of 48 Birds. London: Printed for Darton, Harvey, & Darton, 1816.
Marnie Flook Miniature Book Collection.

Alfred Mills, 1776-1833.
Natural History 48 Quadrupeds. London: Printed for Darton, Harvey, & Darton, 1815.
Marnie Flook Miniature Book Collection.

Museum of Foreign Animals, or, History of Beasts. New Haven: S. Babcock, 1828.

Abraham Rees, 1743-1825.
The Cyclopaedia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature. Philadelphia: S.F. Bradford, 1810-24.

This encyclopedia appeared in parts between January 1802 and August 1820 and ran to 39 volumes of text, 5 volumes of plates, and an atlas. It was written by nearly a hundred contributors, including many well-known artists and engravers.

The Natural History of Quadrupeds, and Cetaceous Animals. Bungay, England: Printed and published by Brightly and Co., 1811.

This is a general natural history book compiled from earlier published material. The plates are hand-colored.


Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports. Philadelphia: J. & T. Doughty, 1830-32.

This was the first major American sporting book illustrated with hand-colored lithographic plates. Many of the plates in the first volume were done by Thomas Doughty (1793-1856), a well-known landscape painter considered to be the founder of the Hudson River School of artists. The lithographic plates use soft color and natural settings to present both accurate and attractive representations of animals.

Peter P. Good, 1789?-1875.
A materia medica animalia, Containing the Scientific Analysis, Natural History, and Chemical and Medical Properties and Uses of the Substances that are the Products of Beasts, Birds, Fishes or Insects. Cambridge, Mass.: The Author, 1853.

Each chapter in this medical natural history discusses a different animal, its medicinal qualities and those of its products. Included are the sponge, hen, honey bee and bloodsucking leeches. The lithographic plates were produced by the firm of E. C. Kellogg of Hartford, Connecticut.

Prang's Natural History Series for Children by Norman A. Calkins and Mrs. A.M. Diaz. Boston: L. Prang, 1878.

The Louis Prang Company was the most successful chromolithographic firm of the late nineteenth century, producing books, greeting cards, paper toys and other ephemera. Each volume of the series cost fifty cents and was aimed at children in elementary school.

Prang cover

Hugh Craig.
Johnson's Household Book of Nature. New York: H.J. Johnson, 1880.

Aimed at a popular audience, Craig combined brief commentary taken from well-known naturalists with brightly colored chromolithographic illustrations.

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Last modified: 02/28/07