Rare Audubon Books Find New Home at Allegheny College

Sept. 17, 2015 – Pelletier Library at Allegheny College has acquired a rare octavo 1871 edition of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” and “Quadrupeds of North America,” considered two of the finest examples of the printer’s art of the 19th century.

The 10-volume set was donated to the Meadville Public Library earlier this year. John Brice, the public library’s director, noted that the books, which have sold at auctions for more than $17,000, are the most valuable donations of rare books in the library’s 136-year history.

Public libraries do not often have the resources to properly display and care for rare books, however. “Our primary goal was to find a good home for these books,” Brice said. “We received a number of offers and in the end the Board of Directors decided to sell the Audubons to Pelletier Library. We’re very happy that the books will be available for use in Meadville.”

A reception to mark the transfer of the Audubon books, which include more than 500 full-color prints, will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24 at the Meadville Public Library. The public is invited.

“We are particularly glad to add these wonderful books to our collection at the beginning of the Year of Meadville, a yearlong celebration of the vital partnership between Allegheny College and the community that helped found it,” said Linda Bills, the college’s library director. “That our two libraries were able to work together to keep these volumes in Meadville is a testament to the strength of an ongoing partnership that spans 200 years.”

Allegheny College’s library collections have been noteworthy since several prominent bibliophiles donated their private collections to the college in the early 1820s, shortly after Allegheny was founded. Of one bequest to the college, Thomas Jefferson noted in a letter to Allegheny’s founder, Timothy Alden, “I had not expected there was such a private collection in the U.S.”

In addition to the three private collections that formed the college’s original library, Pelletier Library’s Special Collections now houses the personal library and papers of pioneering journalist Ida Tarbell, who graduated from Allegheny in 1880; a collection of 15th-century illuminated manuscripts donated by the Rev. Dr. Charles Carroll Albertson; and letters from the Civil War, among other literary treasures.