The Rare Book Room!


Emily: So we are here in the rare book room with Christine. What do you do here in the library? Christine: I am the museum librarian and head of library collections here at the Field Museum. Emily: We are in a particular room in the library this isn’t what the rest of the library looks like. Christine: So we are in the Mary W Reynolds rare book room and this is about 7,500 volumes of rare materials that are Most easily described as the history of Natural History and early travels and voyage. It’s about Natural History. Emily: So these aren’t just like the oldest books that you have in the collection. Christine: Exactly so people often think that rare books are all old and they’re not necessarily, There’s several different criteria that make up rare books, so something could be a particularly important association copy, have a very important first owner. It could have high market value or there could be very limited numbers of a particular work that were ever created. Emily: And you pulled some of these things that we can go look at today. Christine: Yes, I did. Emily: I’m super excited. Christine: Cool. Emily: Let’s go. Emily: Christine, so what makes this rare book rare? Christine: So one of those other Criteria that makes a material rare is when it’s something that is completely unique, so somebody may be like a handwritten manuscript. In this instance these are actually original pattern and proof plates that were part of this book that was published in 1887 called American medicinal plants. And this was done by Charles Millspaugh who is an early curator in the Department of Botany, here at the Field Museum. And all of these went into the final work that you see here, which is multiple part work. Emily: So this is the original painting that he sat down and did by hand and this is the plate reproduction of that thing. Christine: Yes, and sometimes with these there are multiple versions of these within this particular volume. So the final version may have ended up in the book, but there may have been an earlier copy inside of here. Emily: But it’s only this is the only place you could see this particular work. Christine: Exactly, exactly. Emily: So that’s one criterion just how old it is can also be criterion alone for being in the rare book room. Christine: Right so for that 1801 is oftentimes a cut-off so anything published prior to 1801 is often considered rare and would be inside of a room like this. Emily: And you have a book that’s older than 1801. Christine: Yes, I do. Christine: So this is actually from 1554. It was created by a man named Ippolito Salviani and this is one of the earliest books in natural history filled with species descriptions of fish from the Mediterranean region. And what’s interesting about this is it’s one of the first books where the illustrations were done by copperplate engraving where wood cuts were very popular at the time. And this really makes these images pop out at the user’s. Emily: And so is this something that somebody could see online? Christine: Yes, you can actually see this online but what we’ve discovered over the years is that that’s seeing them online often times sparks people do want to see them in person. Emily: So they might not necessarily be like an ichthyologist studying fish, curious about the fish in the Mediterranean from the 1500s, but they might want to know about the artist (Christine: Exactly) who do the engraving. Christine: So, this is a book called the investigations and studies in Jade. So it is filled with all of these lovely images of Jade objects, ornaments, jewelry, things like that and this is number 96 of only 100 that were ever created. This was actually published in 1906, the Jade collection itself is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art But then they created two volumes. This is only one of the volumes that has all of these lovely images in it and what’s also pretty interesting about this is once they publish these books they destroyed the plates that they used to make these books so that they could never make any more of them. Emily: Wow, that’s amazing. But also like a lot of pressure And you’re like oh, please I know. Well, it’s beautiful. Christine: It is. Emily: Is there like a functional reason it has to be this big or was it just because they wanted to make a point? Christine: They could be or you want to show the objects in their original size, things like that. (Emily: I see) They really pop out that way Emily: That’s cool book. Christine: So this is Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. So this is arguably one of the most important texts in the history of natural history Emily: So what makes this copy more rare than the copy that I got that was printed like in the 80s? Christine: So this is a first edition from 1859 good way to tell that you have a first edition is that if you go to page 20 of the book you’ll see right here that the word species is misspelled is one of the indicators. Emily: Do you know how many copies were issued in the first edition? Christine: So there are about twelve hundred and fifty that were originally issued. This has actually been documented as part of the Darwin census project which was out of Cambridge University and the Huntington Library, so we actually have two copies of this work and both of them are documented in this census. Emily: Well, that’s amazing. I didn’t know that they did the census on books like they did a census on people. (Christine: Yes, they do) Oh, well. I guess if you’re Darwin. Emily: The final book that we’re going to talk about isn’t just special in one unique way. Christine: Yeah, it’s special in several different ways it hits several different criteria. One its size. This is a double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. So, this is our volume two. The other aspect of this is that this is filled with hand colored illustrations and this also does have a high market value. So this is a 12-year publishing enterprise that started in 1826 and then continued over that span of time. If people wanted to own these particular volumes. They would subscribe to them and what they would receive in the mail Would be five plates then when they had what would be considered to be a complete volume. They would take it to a bookbinder who would put it together into one particular volume, so a complete set is four volumes. We do have all four volumes of it. Where our volume is even more special is that our set has What are called composite plates and it has all 13 of those composite plates. That means that again over this 12-year publishing enterprise or may have been particular bird species that were misidentified or some other reason that they may have been put together sort of with unassociated species. So, for example so we have this particular plate of the Louisiana, Louisiana Tanager and the Scarlet Tanager, and you have these four birds right here, and then on the very next plate, which is the composite. So this particular species was previously on a different plate and then he realized later on that he really belongs in this grouping of birds so that he was added on later. Emily: So they were like, oh shoot I can’t just like open up the digital project file and Photoshop that thing in, I gotta , like, repress the whole thing. (Christine: Exactly.) So how did we end up with one of the most unique complete copies of the birds of America? Christine: It was actually purchased at auction on our behalf in 1969 and then donated to the institution and that’s how the room is now named to the Mary W Reynolds rare book room because it was through the generosity of her that we have this beautiful set. Emily: And why does this book need to be as big as it is? Christine: Because Audubon wanted to have these illustrations in the life-size of all of the species. Emily: So if you had like a scarlet tanager which you wouldn’t have a dead one, but you held it up. It would (Christine: yes) It match. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Emily: So now that we’ve seen some of the books that you pulled if somebody were interested in looking at some of those materials where could they go? Christine: So, yes, we have been working very hard over the last ten years through our partnership with the biodiversity heritage library to digitize the contents of this room. We are at over 50 million pages of digitized literature that we are making freely available on the web. Emily: I love it. I use the biodiversity heritage library all the time when I’m looking up even if it’s like old museum bulletins or like beautiful illustrations for videos that we’ve made or like I read this account about fresh water bivalves in the button industry from 1908. Don’t know how I would have found that anywhere else. Christine: Yeah, it’s an awesome resource. Emily: I loved it so much, so you should go check it out. Well. Thank you so much for taking the time today. Christine: You’re welcome. It still has brains on it

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100 thoughts on “The Rare Book Room!”

  1. thebrainscoop says:

    Before you get all nervous about Christine not wearing gloves: it's okay. There are many legitimate reasons why librarians don't wear white gloves:

  2. Aaron Swain says:

    I'll just stay in this room forever, thanks.

  3. MsMotron says:

    i expected the necronomecon.

  4. AKArainkit says:

    I'm assuming you can't just walk in and read these? It would be amazing to be able to look at these

  5. Teresa White says:

    So cool. The U of Minnesota Twin Cities campus used to have some prints and Audubon's copper plates on display. The Field Museum is very lucky to have the complete set of elephant folios. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Nillie says:

    What's the piece of music used in the beginning of this video? It's so familiar, but I can't remember who wrote it or what it's commonly called.

  7. Cholula Hot Sauce says:

    One day when I grow up, I will be a free living unarmored dinoflagellate.

  8. Steve Abrahall says:

    Thanks for that it reminded me of a friend who was a librarian at the Wellington Museum NZ he used to tell me about the days when he got to access the hand written journals of captain cook & stuff! In my next life I want to be a librarian in a rare book room!

  9. Heather Stark says:

    Yes, please, all the book videos!

  10. JohannaEG says:

    Emily, you should ask Christine if the library has any Aldrovandi. Then prepare to be amazed.

  11. Crohnie Kat says:

    And I thought the rare book room in my local library was amazing…

  12. New Message says:

    "Folio Follies"

  13. hoborchid says:

    I study history, so its nice to hear about this room : )

  14. NBejiaFlor says:

    Aw man that Birds of America! ♡ Great episode!

  15. lucaigansi says:

    This is probably my favorite episode of all. Old books + science + Emily? Couldn't get any better!

  16. The Scientific Musician says:

    Vesalius' "On the Fabric of the Human Body" of 1543 has incredibly detailed depictions of anatomy and absolutely stunning woodcuts. I wish I could I see an original copy!

  17. Otherwise Healthy says:

    It’s like Objectivity America!

  18. awesomeazure says:

    These past two episodes have made my book loving self so happy! Thank you for this celebration of both contemporary and historical literature <3

  19. Tes says:

    Oh I didn’t know that the birds of America was digitized! I’ve wanted to see that book for over 7 years. Ever since I read the time travelers wife.

  20. Tes says:

    Oh I didn’t know that the birds of America was digitized! I’ve wanted to see that book for over 7 years. Ever since I read the time travelers wife.

  21. Tes says:

    Oh I didn’t know that the birds of America was digitized! I’ve wanted to see that book for over 7 years. Ever since I read the time travelers wife.

  22. Arthur Freitag says:

    thats awesome

  23. EverEmily says:

    Holy pants, Christine has the best job 0_0

  24. Alex Shuysky says:

    I hate people who create things so small that it got very expensive like wtf.

  25. Elliot Grey says:

    "It still has books on it."

  26. Craig Mooring says:

    This looks like bibliophile heaven! Who got the brain bits on the Audubon?

  27. elisa Tigon says:

    rare..books…..OMG……*addiction ACTIVATED*

  28. elisa Tigon says:

    I am so glad that the digital version is being available. Although I would love to see these books in person, I can imagine that keeping them safe and preserved from general public is highly important. 🙂

  29. Sydney says:

    Best video yet! I love old books. I also enjoyed your taxidermy video! I'm excited to see where you will be next (:

  30. Bei Buzz says:

    U should get John Green into the book room too, since he likes book binding :/

  31. Shobhit Mishra says:

    Enthusiastic Palentologist..

  32. photaiplz says:

    Wish I had a library like that in my house….the problem is I don't have that much books

  33. su j says:

    Yay Books!!!

  34. RealSpaceModels says:

    An interesting thing about those Audubon illustrations is that when he got to larger birds, for example Flamingos, they didn't fit even on those large pages. So the pose he put them in has their neck in a very strange position with their head near their feet. Not a natural thing the bird would do.

  35. Hannah O says:

    Christine has my dream job! I can't decide if I want to work in a museum or library and this is both!

  36. JC says:

    OMG I Googled the price of the Audubon book and almost fell out of my chair.

  37. Sarah Martin says:

    I’ve been listening to a bunch of radiolab podcasts and I heard the one today that you were in! I think it’s from like 2013, but I was so excited! I was like, wait, I watch her youtube channel!!

  38. Tina Penningoton says:

    love your hair !!

  39. Quokkat says:


  40. Brittany Kaldunski says:

    This seems like the one of the coolest places to work! I love every video! Keep up the amazing and inspiring work Emily (and team)!

  41. REbones714 says:

    Only one dislike!? That one bastard 😡

  42. Senkan Yamato 戦艦大和 says:

    One of those "Birds of America" by John James Audubon sold for $10 million dollars in 2010………

  43. Brian Wilges says:

    I’m only liking this video because I cannot LOVE it!!!

    Thanks, Emily and Field Museum!

  44. DeadByte says:

    This nerdy girl gets my graduated cylinders arranged in a neat way!

  45. Tatum Derin says:

    Can we switch jobs? 0.0

  46. BISKIT Garcia says:

    That's a nerd paradise 🙂

  47. Reckless Roges says:

    I hope has a mirror.

  48. Teri Scallon says:

    Beautiful books!

  49. Dracarmen Winterspring says:

    I hope they make scans of everything in there, even if not all of them are made publicly available…fires happen.

  50. KiraiBK says:

    What is the video where "it still has brains on it" originated?

  51. Crushi .Music, Art & Love. says:

    The object is only as big as it's audience. – me Thank you for sharing and growing the audience to science and facts, Emily.

  52. bird bones says:

    I want a cologne that smells like that room.

  53. Crushi .Music, Art & Love. says:

    I think it's worth sharing and damaging any book that people travel to go see in person. Books are for sharing knowledge. How are people supposed to be educated if you keep books off limits because they might age quicker. It's a book.

  54. Crushi .Music, Art & Love. says:

    Trust me, the information from these books has been reproduced many times over and is available to all who read this to fawn over. The information is the important part, not the rarity or the physical object.

  55. mordff nit says:

    i like the host of the show , i wish she was my neighbour

  56. Shubham Bhushan says:

    Can I love this channel more? I mean not only it's a brainscoop episode. It's a brainscoop books episode. No no not just any books, rare books.
    Thank you for giving me 8 minutes of joy!

  57. Syrena Webb says:

    I would be going nuts looking at everything. So cool!

  58. PoseidonXIII says:

    I also love old school scientific art!

  59. ZZoinks524 says:

    How did you know I love old books??

  60. Eric Hewes says:

    books & the Brainscoop! I've died and gone to heaven.

  61. Joshua Rosen says:

    The Audubon bird illustrated are absolutely lovely. You are also very lucky in the US to have such a tremendously varied flora and fauna compared to the UK.

  62. s. fisher williams says:

    Yes, but do you have a copy of Aristide Torchia's 'The Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows' with all the original plates?

  63. Aidan Haslam says:

    where's the racoon???

  64. GhibliOmatiC says:

    Came for "The Origin of Speceies", was not disappointed.

  65. A Unicorn says:

    If I was there the entire time I would be like can I touch it can I touch it can I can I can I can I touch it

  66. CrankyPants says:

    Excellent episode. Thanks, Emily.

  67. Frankagator says:

    How much does the James Audubon Birds Of America cost? It seems like a shockingly unique and rare object

  68. CB Droege says:

    Is this an Objectivity crossover?

  69. adicakes says:

    Emily's up the duff

  70. A Concerned Human says:

    Just subscribed to the channel…Great and interesting content…Keep it up !!!

  71. Hypatia4242 says:

    Ooo, ooo, can you show us some of the misclassifications that were made in the rare books? It'll help junior scientists come to terms with the fact mistakes happen and the field keeps growing.

  72. AlleyBetwixt says:

    Oh my gosh, this room… and this video, are my idea of heaven. Those Audobons!

  73. janey0317 says:

    The day this was published I had purchased an awesome book
    Natural Histories – Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library
    I love it so much! 💜

  74. finderfinder100 says:

    Too funny my mom just gave me a framed prints of Audubon's tanagers as an early Xmas gift.

  75. Kayla Davis says:

    OK just got done watching SciShow Quiz Show from today, and they talked about whale earwax plugs. Does the Chicago Field Museum have any whale earwax plugs? Can we see them??

  76. william skinner says:

    I love the black faced watch. It looks as if it must be something special; does anybody know?

  77. TheWordsmythe says:

    I feel so energized and relaxed just looking at these.

  78. Abigail Birdsell says:

    Please please do an episode on SUE's story! Its so wild

  79. Jean-Luc Maske-Stockdale says:

    I'm not much of a reader but I have such an obsession with books.

  80. ButacuP PucatuB says:

    I loooooove rare books! This was fascinating and a joy to watch!!!!! Thank you for taking us along ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  81. faeriesmak says:! I didn’t know about the online archives.

  82. Eudaemonius MarkII says:

    As a book hound I found this fascinating! Love to see you do one on cook books! If you want to use my library, please let me know!

  83. CRAIG DE LA REY says:

    Imagine marrying a woman that intelligent.

  84. Darrell Hoberer says:

    Arrived here from "No Dumb Questions". Subscribed immediately. Emily, you're the most friendly and entertaining Youtube personalities I've seen. I can't wait to watch more of your work.

  85. Katrina Eames says:

    Why is 1801 the cut off year? How did we arrive at that date for being the "old books" that makes a book a part of the rare book collection? When was the last time that year was updated?

  86. Brian Oloo says:

    I'm a book collector. It's hard to find good content. Sending my congratulations and good vibes for being so awesome 🙏🏾

  87. Sup Dude says:

    Ancient people has way better drawings than we do now

  88. Dennis Rader says:

    Emily, what happened to your neck?

  89. ariana moore says:

    I couldn’t stop staring at her watch. That’s a nice watch

  90. Zades145 says:

    This channel is so good, every video is so wholesome and informative.

  91. Buttons Things and Me Review and craft with me! says:

    I have a very vintage German book how can I tell its worth?

  92. Michelle Koh says:

    Fascinating and i want to say breath-taking but would miss out that gorgeous old book smell so ASTOUNDING!

  93. Ian the Fat Fxxk says:

    Give me your address. I go burn it down.

  94. MikiNotAMouse says:

    I have a question- what if there's a fire??? Are there plans to save these books, or would all this knowledge just be lost?

  95. pim1234 says:

    In the middle of such a nice group of old books and then wearing a stupid smartwatch and on the wrong wrist …

  96. Bonnie Hundley says:

    I believe I'm into these book mostly for the aesthetics.
    I'm all like, omg, digitize them. Keep that place climate controlled, obviously, since it's an archive.

  97. Gretel albarado says:

    Hoy fui estafada por esta página😠

  98. rgtrooper13 says:

    Failed Bechdel test. Two women and all they do is talk about men lol

  99. Lucas Velasco says:

    Rebecca needs this

  100. mauimudpup says:

    worked in Ohio State Universities rare book room and love being able to see other ones

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