The Special Collections of the USDA’ National Agricultural Library (NAL) offer agricultural historians, and those with similar interests, access to “rare books, manuscript collections, nursery and seed trade catalogs, photographs, and posters from the 1500s to the present.” Visit the library 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (or the Special Collections 8:30 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm) Monday through Friday at the National Agricultural Library’s Abraham Lincoln Building in Beltsville, Maryland.
But, before you make the trip, see what all the National Agricultural Library’s Special Collection has to offer online. Below we highlight just a few sections feature on the NAL’s Special Collections web site:
In the Special Collections’ Rare Books Collection online find digitized images from works like the 1797 The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, the 1817 American Medical Botany, the 1848 Tokaido Gojusan-eki Hachiyama Edyu and more. The NAL web site explains that the rare book collection “is strong in a number of agricultural sciences and includes works by many great herbalists, as well as renowned works on flowers and fruits from both the 18th and 19th centuries.”
Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogs
In the Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogs section of the Special Collections site are a selection of digitized covers from the over 200,000 NAL has in its collection. These catalogs date back to the late 1700s but most in the collection are from the 1890s on.
Thomas Jefferson Correspondence Collection
The Thomas Jefferson Correspondence Collection contains scanned in copies of letters (accompanied by transcripts) spanning 1786 to 1819. Topics within the letters include correspondence with agricultural offices, details on seed purchases, Jefferson’s invention of a plough attachment and more.
USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
In the Pomological Watercolor Collection find illustrations used in pomology, “the science of fruit breeding and production.” The USDA’s Division of Pomology was created in 1886 “to oversee the collection and distribution of new varieties of fruits, and to disseminate information to fruit growers and breeders. “
Interested in working with historic materials? The National Agricultural Library offers student internships (PDF) and volunteer opportunities in its Special Collections. Both options allow participants to “handle and organize primary source materials, including manuscripts, rare books, photographs, posters, and artifacts.”