Amherst Magazine

Visit the Archives and Special Collections at Frost Library

By Emily Gold Boutilier

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The 1855 book Mastodon Giganteus features a fold-out drawing of a complete mastodon skeleton discovered 10 years earlier.

In 1885 a farmer named Wilson Alwyn Bentley became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal, and since then, science class has never been the same: Bentley popularized the notion that no two snowflakes are alike.
His 1931 book, Snow Crystals, which he wrote with William J. Humphreys, is part of a spring exhibition, at Archives and Special Collections, on the history of scientific illustration.

On display are nearly 50 books, all library holdings. They include the first illustrated work devoted entirely to ornithology (from 1555), a 1632 book of Galileo’s astronomical observations and John Gould’s hand-colored illustrations of Galápagos finches for Charles Darwin.

Other highlights include Mastodon Giganteus, an 1855 book by John C. Warren that features a fold-out drawing of the complete mastodon skeleton discovered in 1845 in New York State. That skeleton, still one of the most complete ever found of a mastodon, was acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where it is on display. Also on exhibit at Archives is a drawing of a Megatherium skeleton from an 1860 illustrated book by Richard Owen—the man who coined the term “dinosaur.” 

One volume of John James Audubon’s Birds of America is always on display in the Archives, providing a complement to the current exhibition. In addition, several Archives holdings are on view at a Mead Art Museum show (which runs through May 29) on the illustrations of Orra White Hitchcock.

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04

See for yourself
Scientific Illustration runs through June 3 at Archives and Special Collections on A Level of Frost Library.  The display is open to the public during regular library hours. Images from the Orra White Hitchcock exhibition at the Mead are available at www.amherst.edu/mead. Many of those images come from Archives and Special Collections.