Guide to the Research Collections



History of Science

The collections are comprehensive for the history of science in general and also for the particular sciences, excepting the life sciences and medicine. The strong holdings of society publications from their beginnings in Europe are a significant feature. There are generally complete runs of such journals as the Royal Society of London Philosophical Transactions (1665- ), the Journal des Sçavans (Amsterdam, 1665- 1792), the Kungliga Svenska Vetenskapsakademien Handlingar (1739- ), and the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen Verhandelingen (1754-93).

First and early editions of the great classics of science are especially well represented in mathematics, astronomy, and physics, with additional engineering rarities in the Parsons collection. Some medical and botanical classics are in the Rare Book Division, and also in the Arents Tobacco Collection.6


This is a good working collection of 750 books, pamphlets, and periodicals; periodicals and society publications are a feature. The collection of nineteenth-century works is strong. Works of historical interest include Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665), Theodor Balthasar's Micrometria (1710), and Henry Baker's frequently reprinted The Microscope Made Easy (1742).


General Materials

This has always been an exceptional collection; it is especially strong in periodicals and society publications. The core of the present collection of 20,000 volumes and manuscripts consisted of the libraries of several celebrated mathematicians which Dr. Cogswell secured for the Astor Library in the 1850s; these include Halley's and Legendre's libraries, purchased by S. Ward and enriched by him. During Cogswell's visit to Europe in 1852/53 he also secured some 3,000 volumes from the libraries of Jacobi and of the two Heiligenstadts. The whole collection he evaluated as "entitled to be ranked with the first mathematical libraries abroad," with full collections of all published works of Euler, Gauss, Newton, Leibniz, the Bernouillis, Laplace, Delambre, Lacroix, Legendre, Jacobi, Adel, and others, all the mathematical journals then obtainable, and a very large number of mathematical dissertations and manuscripts.7

The collection of mathematical periodicals is outstanding. A check against "Most Cited Serials: Mathematics" in Brown's Scientific Serials reveals that out of the 99 titles listed, the Research Libraries lack only 5, and have full representation of the first 50 titles noted by Brown as usually more valuable than those lower on the list.8 Most of the runs are complete, although some lack a few scattered volumes. An additional strength of the holdings lies in the substantially complete representation of earlier journals since, as Brown notes, mathematics is a comparatively stable science, and earlier journals are used to a greater extent than early publications in physics, chemistry, and physiology. About 46 percent of the mathematics periodicals are in the English language and 54 percent in other languages, mostly in German and French, with some in Italian, Russian, and Japanese. There are also full holdings of the major abstracting services in mathematics.

Rarities and Manuscripts

The library has a large number of first or early printed editions of the great mathematical authors, with Euclid's Elementa Géometriae (1482), John Napier's Rabdologiae (1617), Galileo's Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche (1683), and Newton's Principia (1687) among the first editions,9 among early editions are Boethius' De

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 Institutione Arithmetica (1492), Luca de Paccioli's Summa de Arithmetica (1494), Maurolico's "Works" (1566), Napier's Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Constructio (1619), Tycho Brahe's De Disciplinis Mathematics Oratio (1621), Vossius' De Quatuor Artibus Popularibus (1650), Honorat de Meynier's Paradoxes (1652), Fermat's "Works" (1657), Wallis' "Works" (1657), Euler's Tentamen Novae Theoriae Musicae (1739), and Bernoulli's "Works" (1774). A number of rare colonial American arithmetics deserve mention: the earliest is William Bradford's The Secretary's Guide (1737), and the group includes an early Canadian French title, Thèses de mathematiques qui seront soutenues au seminaires de Quebec (1775).

There are a number of mathematical manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division which are of interest largely for their historical importance. These consist of such items as exercise books, problems in geometry, and algebra note books, the earliest of which dates from the late sixteenth century. The largest group of this material is in the papers of Philip Schuyler (1733-1804). Of greater significance perhaps are two manuscripts of Leonhard Euler: "Euler's Einleitung in die Analysis des Unendlichen" dated 1770; and "Anmerkungen und Erlaeuterungen zu Mechanica sive motus scientia."


Strong holdings of journals and society publications are included in the fine collection of 21,200 volumes and manuscripts in this field. In Brown's "List of Most Frequently Cited Serials," the library lacks 7 out of 50 titles, with only 2 missing from the first half of the list.10 There are complete runs of the most important serials such as Astrophysical Journal (1895- ), Astronomische Nachrichten (1821- ), Royal Astronomical Society of London: Monthly Notices (1821- ), and others. Collections of observatory reports include mostly those of the nineteenth century and before, since the Science and Technology Research Center has not collected twentieth-century reports from seismological and geodetic observatories in depth. There is a good but not extensive collection of astronomical maps and charts, some of them in the Map Division. Ephemerides and nautical almanacs form a very extensive group of materials ranging from incunabula of Johannes Müller Regiomontanus and Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto through numerous sixteenth-century editions of Petrus Apianus to complete sets of the Nautical Almanac (1767- ) and the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac (1855- ). There are also many nautical almanacs from France, New Zealand, India, and other countries. Egyptian and Babylonian astronomy receive adequate treatment in the Oriental Division's holdings; many index entries in the division catalog refer to articles in learned society and journal publications. There are a number of interesting items in the division on Oriental astronomy, such as Gustaaf Schlegel's Uranographie chinoise (1875) and works by Léopold de Saussure.

Johannes de Sacro Bosco's Sphaera Mundi is of special interest to the Research Libraries: the Rare Book Division has approximately 117 editions in Latin or in French, German, Italian, and Spanish translations ranging from a copy dated 1472 through the seventeenth century. A fourteenth-century vellum manuscript of Sacro Bosco's "Opera Astronomica et Mathematica," in the Manuscripts and Archives Division contains illuminated capital letters and many astronomical diagrams.

Other than the Sacro Bosco holdings, mentioned above, the Research Libraries have an unusually good collection of titles published before 1700 and some manuscript rarities. Among the books are De Cometis (1474), the second edition of the first printed work on astronomy, Ptolemy's Cosmographia (1478), Peurbach's Theoricae Novae Planetarum (1482), Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto's Almanach Perpetuum (1496),11 Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1543), Besson's Le Cosmolabe (1567), Johann Praetorius' De Cometis (1578), Kepler's Astronomia Nova (1609), Galileo's Dialogo (1632), and Tycho Brahe's Historia Coelestis (1666).

Materials on time contain much of interest, including works on calendars (including American Indian and Hebrew, as well as the Gregorian and Roman) and instruments (clock, watches, dials, and the like). Special materials on the calendar include a collection presented by W. F. Allen. The library's collection of materials on sundials is extensive: design and other artistic aspects are covered in the collection of the Art and Architecture Division; the scientific aspects, in the Science and Technology Research Center. In the 1930s the library began to collect calendars primarily as examples of typography rather than chronology; the collection housed at the Annex at 43rd Street is under the administration of the General Research and Humanities Division. Encompassing thousands of items from the late nineteenth century on, it is being added to selectively.

The correspondence of Professor Henry Draper from 1869 to 1882 has been noted in chapter 14 of this Guide. Three boxes and eight volumes in the Manuscripts and Archives Division contain the papers of William Frederick Allen, presented by him in 1901, consisting of original letters, manuscripts, circulars, and pamphlets relating to the complete history of the movement which resulted in the adoption of Standard Time by the railroads November 18, 1883.

Illustrated manuscripts in the Spencer Collection include a splendid example of Hyginus' "De Sideribus," on vellum, copied in Italy about 1450 with 38 miniatures of constellations outlined with a blue shading (Spencer MS 28); and several sixteenth-and seventeenth- century Persian astronomical works. Among the holdings of the Manuscripts and Archives Division are 4 letters by James Ferguson on scientific matters with astronomical diagrams dated from 1769 to 1776, and 6 volumes of original manuscripts by Karl Friedrich Gauss including his "Astronomische Rechungen zur Erläuterung der Theoria Motus Corporum Coelestium" (1800?).


A collection of about 600 volumes on the subject is administered by the Science and Technology

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Research Center; it includes the Fleming Smith collection. There are long runs of periodicals such as Raphael's Prophetic Messenger (1833- ) and the American Astrology Magazine (1933- ), along with rarities of the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century works, as well as more contemporary materials.


This is a generally strong collection in all branches of the subject. It contains extensive and complete files of scientific journals and publications of learned societies, and there is exceptional strength in systematic works in general physics before 1800. In all there are some 30,300 volumes and manuscripts. The Science and Technology Research Center keeps abreast of new fields as diverse as cryogenics, holography, and astronautics. Moreover, fields such as space biology and radiation medicine are collected by virtue of their connection with atomic energy. Molecular, nuclear, and atomic physics have the greatest numerical strength (7,500 volumes); other strong subjects are optics (4,200 volumes); and, electricity and magnetism, and mechanics of solids, each with 3,900 volumes.

The Research Libraries have almost all of the publications listed by Brown as "Most Cited Serials: Physics,"12 with complete runs except for some of the early numbers of a few less-cited serials. As is the case with most fields in science, the holdings are as complete for older as they are for modern titles. Approximately 28 percent of the material is from the United States; about 54 percent of it is in English. French, German, and Spanish are the languages next in order of titles represented. Scores of indexes and abstracts are available on the open shelves of the Science and Technology Research Center.

Among older works of interest or importance in the library are many published before 1800, such as first editions of Newton's Principia (1687), Huygens's Opuscula Postuma (1703), Newton's Opticks (1704), and Caus's Les Raisons des forces movantes (1615), and others. The Manuscripts and Archives Division has the scientific papers and the correspondence from 1847 to 1878 of the physicist Henry Wurtz.


This is the largest and certainly the most frequently used science collection of the Research Libraries. Totalling 35,400 volumes and manuscripts, the holdings afford an excellent working collection of current material, with rich resources in the history of chemistry. There is exceptional strength in periodicals and files of publications of American and European institutions and academies. The collecting policy is exhaustive for all aspects of the field except undergraduate texts.

A check of Brown's list of "Most Cited Serials" reveals only a few lacking titles, with those mostly in allied fields of chemistry, such as pharmacy, biology, physiology in which the library does not collect extensively.13 Of the total number of periodicals received, 55 percent are in English, and of the total 26 percent come from the United States; Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and France are next in number of titles received. The center cooperates in reporting its holdings to the Comprehensive List of Periodicals for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering issued by Chemical Abstracts Service: a set of Chemical Abstracts is kept on the open shelves of the center for ready reference. In addition to this major abstracting service, the center has others such as Analytical Abstracts, Bulletin signalétique, Chemical Market Abstracts, Referativnyi Zhurnal, and Science Citation Index.

In r ecent years the collection has grown proportionally stronger in biochemistry and biophysics. The present disposition of the larger subject groups in the resources is approximately as follows: general chemistry 7,000 volumes; biochemistry 6,700 volumes; physical chemistry 6,400 volumes; and analytic and inorganic chemistry, each 4,600 volumes.

Among the early or rare works are Biringuccio's De la Pirotechnia (1540), Jabir's De Alchemia (1541), Boyle's New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold (1603), Canepari's De Atrementis (1660), Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665), Lavoisier's Opuscules physiques et chymiques (1774), Dalton's New System of Checimal Philosophy (1808-27), and Davy's Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812). There are some forty titles on alchemy (the library has a good collection on this subject) published before 1700.

Holdings on chemistry in the Manuscripts and Archives Division include the correspondence of Jerome Alexander with other scientists (1908-51); the papers (1866-1921) of Wallace Goold Levison; and many of the notes of Peter Henri Van der Weyde (1813-95).

Natural History

The collection relating to natural history is extensive, though highly uneven. There are approximately 5,900 entries listed in the Public Catalog; it is administered by the General Research and Humanities Division. The collecting policy is comprehensive at present, but this has not always been the case. In the early days of the Astor Library, natural history was considered of greater importance than it is today. As Joseph Cogswell noted in 1854. "The Natural Sciences form one of the richest and best furnished [divisions] in the Library. The whole number of volumes embraced in it is four thousand two hundred and forty-nine."14 However, by 1910, when Dr. Billings in his annual report enunciated his policy of avoiding duplication of strong collections in other libraries in the city, this subject was dropped to second place; the policy became selective, with an emphasis on the best books for the layman. About 1950 the collecting policy be1came representative, in an attempt to share comprehensive coverage between this library and other libraries in the city, such as the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University.

Materials which would have been classified in the Public Catalog under the subject heading of "Natural History" in the past are now most generally assigned under more specific general headings, such as "Biology" and "Physics." The subject heading of "Natural History" is perhaps best considered as an historical classification of considerable importance but no longer definitive as a finding aid.

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Periodicals and society publications form an outstanding feature in this subject field. Included are such titles as the Annales des sciences naturelles (1824-33), Archiv für Naturgeschichte (1835-1908), with long and generally complete files; but special importance attaches to the publications of natural history societies which flourished in the nineteenth century. Later journals include the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society's Proceedings and Reports (1873/74- ), the Boston Society of Natural History's Proceedings (1841-1934), and publications of the Linnaean Societies of Lancaster and New York, the Verein für vaterlandische Naturkunde in Wurtemberg's Jahreshefte (1845-1932), and many others. Although European serials appear to be held in the largest numbers, most localities of the world are represented by at least the major publications, generally up to the early 1930s. At that time, many titles that stressed the biological sciences were discontinued if they were available in other professional or technical libraries in New York City. Rich collections of academy and learned society publications and museum publications are important allied resources.

There are several other features of importance or interest in the collection. There is an inclusive representation of the classics in this field, from Pliny the Elder through Buffon, Pouchet, Darwin, and others. The library has most of the accounts of nineteenth-century voyages and travels of research parties, including sets of the United States Exploring Expedition.15 The library's specialization in works on the polar and arctic regions adds additional depth to the natural history of these areas. An important resource for natural history not usually analyzed in the library's catalogs is the extensive collection of local history publications in the Local History and Genealogy Division; for example, the "Victoria County Histories" of England have detailed sections devoted to this subject. Perhaps of secondary importance but still of considerable interest is the rather strong collection of essays in natural history.

The Rare Book Division holds a number of early accounts of America from the seventeenth century and later. The naturalist as litterateur is represented in the Berg Collection where, for example, there are numerous first and early editions of John Burroughs, with many manuscripts including twelve notebooks, from 1854 to 1883, and approximately 200 letters. Among materials in the Manuscripts and Archives Division are the letters from Sir Charles Blagden to Sir Joseph Banks on American natural history and politics.16 A gift of importance to the division in 1937-39 was the correspondence of the National Association of Audubon Societies in America from 1899 through December 31, 1930.


Meteorology is one of the strong collections of the library; 10,000 volumes and manuscripts are maintained. The major part of the holdings consist of government meteorological reports of both the United States and other countries, with excellent coverage from the earliest issue of the reports to the present. The coverage extends to the states of the United States from the period when reports were issued by state agencies, until the time when such services were taken over by the U.S. Weather Bureau. Thus, for example, there are sets of the Ohio Weather and Crop Service reports and those of the New York City Meteorological Observatory. Excluding the government reports, approximately 40 periodicals are received at present.

Weather and climate are perhaps the strongest subject areas. Certain subject areas dealing with natural phenomena such as weather observations and earth sciences receive unusually close analysis in the card catalogs, both chronologically and geographically. As has been indicated, most of the entries refer to books. Many early books came from the Daniel Draper Library (Central Park Observatory), a number of them inscribed copies.

Material in the Rare Book Division on the subject, other than a few early texts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, consists of printed meteorological observations of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Materials in the Manuscripts and Archives Division are found in certain diaries, such as that of Dr. Samuel Adams from 1758 to 1819 which, in addition to other personal data, gives a detailed record of the weather in New England including a description of the "Dark Day," May 19, 1780.

Physical Geography

Mountains and mountaineering, as well as oceanography, are perhaps the areas best covered in this relatively small collection. The first of these topics is under the administration of the General Research and Humanities Division, but the rest of the subject of physical geography is administered by the Science and Technology Research Center. The center has a comprehensive collection of the nautical charts of the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, and a representative group of those issued by other countries.

Periodicals and institutional publications are numerous. In the oceanography collection is a strong representation of the publications of leading Oceanographic institutions such as the Institut Océanographique (Monaco) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Holdings of tide tables are most complete for the United States, Great Britain, and Canada; those of other countries often show gaps, although the Science and Technology Research Center endeavors to keep its files complete. Classics in oceanography such as Matthew Fontaine Maury's The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855) are also available. There are reports of the various oceanographic expeditions, from Samuel P. Lee's Reports and Charts of the Cruise of the U.S. Brig Dolphin (1854) to those of the cruise of the Meteor (1925-29) and later expeditions.

The collections on caves and speleology contain periodicals exhibiting a wide geographic range. Currently the library receives 14 titles from ten countries, including 2 each from Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States. Some early accounts of the first half of the nineteenth century deal with Mammoth Cave and other caves of the United States.

Mountains and Mountaineering

A comprehensive collection is administered by the General Research and Humanities Division.

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Approximately 1,800 entries in the Public Catalog pertain to the subject, including, for the most part, accounts of mountain-climbing expeditions and descriptions of individual mountains and mountain ranges. There are a few guide books and books of instruction. The library can show ample documentation of the various expeditions up Mount Everest, from an early article by George Leigh Mallory on a reconnaissance of the mountain (in Geographic Journal for 1922), through a number of works on the successful ascent in 1953. Generally texts in languages other than English are held both in the original and in English translation if available. A feature of the collection is the extensive number and completeness of the periodical holdings with titles such as Die Alpen (1925- ), Appalachia (1876- ), Die Bergsteiger (1930- ), Revue de Géographie Alpine (1915- ), and other journals of mountain-climbing associations such as the Sierra Club Bulletin (1893- ), and New Zealand's Canterbury Mountaineer: Journal of the Canterbury Mountaineering and Tramping Club (1936/37- ). The library currently receives approximately 20 periodical titles on the subject.


The 30,100 volumes in geology and mineralogy form an extremely strong collection, particularly in holdings of government documents and the publications of professional societies. The collecting policy is exhaustive. American local geology is strong, and there is a good representation of the local geology of Canada and Western European countries; other nations are covered in as much detail. Geological maps with accompanying text are kept in the Science and Technology Research Center, but maps lacking text are maintained by the Map Division. The collection of geological maps is comprehensive for every part of the world, with files including maps produced in early years as well as the most contemporary materials.

The library has complete files of the major indexing services in this field. There are a number of early nineteenth-century textbooks, but textbooks are no longer collected.

Among the early works in geology and mineralogy are Agricola's De Re Metallica (1556), Entzelt's De Re Metallica (1551), Nicolas Steno's De Solido intra Solidum Naturaliter (1669), Swendenborg's Opera Philosophica et Mineralia (1734), de Maillet's Telliamed (1750), Buffon's Histoire naturelle (1749-67), Leibniz's Protogaea (1749), Haüy's Sur la structure des crystaux (1784), and Agassiz's Études sur les glaciers (1840).

Additional information is found in the excellent collection on mines and mining treated in chapter 57 of this Guide. Book material on precious or semiprecious stones may be located through the dictionary catalog of the Art and Architecture Division.


To avoid duplication of existing resources in other libraries in New York City, the Research Libraries maintain only a representative collection of 2,400 volumes in paleontology. The collection of basic books does not include the paleontological catalogs produced by the various private organizations and societies, nor does it contain museum catalogs.