Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation
Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt
& History of Collections
Rachel Hunt was born 30 June 1882 in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, and died 22 February 1963 in Pittsburgh. From her youth she had a strong affinity for plants and gardens as well as for books.
These interests eventually led to her developing an internationally renowned collection of botanical books, in addition to manuscripts and artworks. She began early to collect books in her special areas of interest. Her first gardening book, bought at age 15, was Leonard Meager's The English Gardener, or A Sure Guide to Young Planters and Gardeners, London, Printed for P. Parker, 1670.
She also became interested in bookbinding and studied with Euphemia Bakewell, a student of the English master binder T. J. Cobden-Sanderson. Her considerable mastery of the bookbinder's craft enabled her to produce approximately 90 bindings, many of which are now held by the Institute. Her binding activity is documented in Marianne Titcombe's The Bookbinding Career of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, Pittsburgh, 1974. She also began to collect rare books in earnest. In addition to books on plant-related subjects, she also collected works on bookbinding, typography and book production, as well as the products of selected private presses. Much of this non-botanical material resides in the Rare Book and Special Collections department of the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries.
A choice portion of her botanical book collection is documented in the two-volume Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, compiled by Jane Quinby and published in Pittsburgh by The Hunt Botanical Library, 19581961. This catalogue, now out of print but available in many libraries, provides a detailed bibliographic record of 800 rare publications, mostly botanical, in Mrs. Hunt's collection. It also contains several chapters on various historical aspects of the collection as well as some information on the complexities of the bibliographic description of rare books.
From the preface to the Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, compiled by Jane Quinby and published in Pittsburgh by The Hunt Botanical Library, 19581961:
"Happy are they who have memoriesyou are my whole youth. I find you mixed up with all my joys ..."
I have loved books from my youth. Botanical books have been mixed with all my pleasures.
When I was a little girl, I lived on my Grandmother's estate, in a large house on a hilltop, surrounded by great trees and many gardens. Perhaps I inherited from her my interest in gardening, for she loved every inch of her acres. She owned an Inn here in Western Pennsylvania, where George Washington had come, years before, as a young surveyor.
That was in the village below our hilltop. There were farms beyond the hill, and a deep valley below with a pond, where the wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania grew rampantarbutus, hepatica, blood root, white and purple violets. I learned to know the wildflowers by name when a friend of my Mother's gave me a wildflower book when I was six years oldHow to Know the Wildflowers , by Mrs. William Starr Dana. It was my "Bible"and in my Library today I have that same book.
Interest in books developed, and my first gardening book (bought when I was fifteen) was The English Gardener, or A Sure Guide to Young Planters and Gardeners , by Leonard Meager, 1670. We have on our place in Pittsburgh, ELMHURST, a knot garden the design of which was taken from that particular book, part II. In 1940 I copied a part of that knot garden for the New York Flower Show. Work and study had occupied me for many years and my botanical collection grewand collecting botanical books became a passion, and still is. To quote Zola once more: "We have faith in ourselves because we have penetrated our hearts and flesh."
... The more one collects, the further back one goes into history and the deeper one delves into the subject. As my botanical book collection grew, I acquired a long series of portraits of botanists, mostly engraved; and I collected, also, illustrations (prints and original drawings) of the plants and flowers named for them or by them. All of these collections I have shown and lectured on in many museums, galleries and libraries throughout the United States, and the print collection still grows. I also acquired many autograph letters of botanists--but that is another story.
Eventually I found myself owning many of the key books in the history of botany, and I wanted to share my pleasure in them with other students and collectors by having them described in catalogue form ...
Over the years I have climbed mountains of stairs, for many rare books are housed on the second and third floors of buildings. In time, my Library came to include not only the long-sought herbals but also the books that grew out of herbalslittle manuals on early gardening, some lovely folio books with color plates of flowers, botanical travels so fascinating to read and enjoy, some early cookery books, books of emblemsalmost every subject connected with botany including unusual pamphlets.
May this catalogue as a whole ... be of high service to future users.
In 1913, she married Roy Arthur Hunt, president and chairman of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and son of company founder Alfred E. Hunt, and together they established the Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt Botanical Library. The Hunt Botanical Library was formally opened and dedicated on October 10, 1961.
Organizations in which Rachel Hunt was active and in some cases a founding or charter member include: American Bookplate Association, American Horticultural Society, Garden Club of America, Garden Club of Allegheny County, Grolier Club, Herb Society of America, Hroswitha Club, National Society of Colonial Dames of America, Pennsylvania Society, Pittsburgh Bibliophiles and Zonta International.
We feel fortunate to be able to make Mrs. Hunt's collections and the Institute's subsequent acquisitions, research and programs available to scientists, scholars and anyone interested in the various aspects of botany, bibliography, art biography and history represented here.
History of Collections
Mrs. Hunt's dedication to scholarship motivated and informed her pursuit and acquisition of especially valued and valuable books, and also led naturally to her collecting artworks, portraits and manuscripts significant in the history of botany. Her collecting efforts, as well as those of the early Hunt Botanical Library staff, especially focused on publications and manuscripts from 1730 to 1840, a period of intense intellectual ferment and productivity in botanical history. In the eighteenth century, Linnaeus and his contemporaries actively sought to construct new systems for interpreting the interrelationships of the natural world, and written communication about this work increased dramatically. The proliferation of botanical publications in this period, coupled with bibliographic complexities which disappeared following the introduction of new technologies for mass production of books and serials, make this 1730-1840 period an area of particular interest for Hunt Institute, not only in terms of collecting but also in terms of bibliographic and historical study. Institute collecting and research interests are not limited to that period, though, and today the Institute continues to collect, use and make available a wide variety of historical and retrospective materials, as well as their modern counterparts.
Mrs. Hunt's book collection included incunabula (books printed from movable type prior to 1501), early herbals, early agricultural and horticultural works, 17th- through 19th-century color-plate books, and works on voyages of exploration and discovery. To these were later added publications on other aspects of botany, as well as on ancillary studies such as botanical bibliography, biography, art and illustration. Books were always her primary interest and formed the core of her personal library, around which collections of other types of material were assembled. Thus one of the Institute's strengths always has been the interlocking quality of its collections, wherein various aspects and products of an individual's life and work are documented, reproduced or held as original materials. The Institute also has focused continuously on building files of bibliographic data documenting the history of the published botanical record. This activity began as research on the library collection but soon expanded in scope to include information on publications not represented in the Institute's collections, so these bibliographic data files are a rich source of information on botanical documentation.
Art and Illustration
Mrs. Hunt assembled a collection of botanical art, partly with the objective of having some original artworks by every artist whose published work was in her collection of botanical books. Thus the art collection today includes paintings, drawings, engravings, lithographs, woodcuts, linocuts, serigraphs and other types of artworks as well as handcolored prints, many of which were produced as book plates in previous centuries.
In the early days of Hunt Botanical Library, a survey was made to determine the extent and character of similar botanical art collections at other botanical centers here in the U.S. and abroad. Because historical material was relatively well represented at a number of institutions (mostly European and a few American ones), the decision was made to pursue the acquisition of 20th-century works, which remain a speciality of the art collection today.
In some cases, the Institute sought to collect original artworks that were reproduced in botanical or horticultural books. Because many of the original botanical paintings and drawings that were reproduced in books of previous centuries were subsequently "lost," the historical importance of those artworks that were "rescued" or otherwise found and added to the Institute collection is appreciable. For many of those works, not even the identity of the artist is known, and for a few the Institute's are the only originals known to be extant.
In addition to collecting artworks and preserving examples of artists' and illustrators' work, the Institute always has tried to find information about the works' creators in order to document their lifetime activities and, in so doing, accumulate a body of knowledge about the history of botanical art.
The Institute's manuscript collection contains such items as letters, journals and diaries, field notes, documents, drafts of published and unpublished books and articles, annotated maps, passports, and other personal papers of botanists. The collection functions as a permanent repository for selected botanical manuscript material. The Institute's original manuscript collection, assembled by Mrs. Hunt, held 410 autographed signed letters from 176 persons, including many notable botanists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Although the primary focus of the manuscript collection is botanical, researchers in other subject areas can also find relevant material here. The collection includes material on such topics as travel and exploration from the 1700s to the present, nineteenth-century education in the U.S., scientific expeditions sponsored by the U.S. government, early medicine, social commentary, the sociology of science, and the diffusion of scientific knowledge.
The scope and accuracy of histories of botany and science written by biographers and historians will depend very substantially on the preservation and accessibility of manuscript collections like the Institute's.
Early in her collecting years, Mrs. Hunt sought information on those individuals whose names were commemorated in the names of plants she knew. She also sought correspondence of botanists of previous centuries. To these ends, she acquired biographical information about botanists, particularly about the authors whose books composed her library, but also about others who figured in the history of botany. Years later this accumulated information has grown into a very large databank which is now being translated to machine-readable form. In addition to the basic collection of biographical data, collections such as that of curricula vitae of 20th-century botanists bring the Institute's biographical efforts into the present day.
Mrs. Hunt collected images of botanists and other individuals who worked in the plant sciences, including authors of books in her collection, figures who had plants named after them, or men and women who played significant roles in botanical history. Engravings, medals and photographs are featured in the portrait collection, which is curated in the Institute's archives. The early decades of photography ushered in a new era of portraiture for everyone, and botanists were no exception; while a number of botanical centers throughout the world have collections of early photographs, very few institutions have sizable collections of 20th-century photographs of botanists. Collecting such portraits has become one of our strengths and an important part of our program.
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