Charles Darwin: Traveling Exhibit and Related Rare Books

Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently announced a traveling exhibit, Rewriting the Book of Nature, now open in the Molecular Biology Building (open to the public until October 29).  The exhibit commemorates Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday (he was born February 12, 1809) and the 150th anniversary of the publication On the Origin of Species (first published in London on November 24, 1859).  If you are still interested in learning more after viewing the exhibit, the Special Collections Department has a variety of options a short block away on the fourth floor of Parks Library!

Our early second edition of On the Origin of Species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life (call number QH365 .D259o)

We hold the “second edition” of On the Origin of Species (the entire title is:  On the Origin of Species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life).  The identification and differences between the second and first editions are explained here.  Basically, the first printing of the book sold rapidly, and the publisher had to quickly prepare for another printing, but made some small changes before doing so.  These editions are often confused, and one can see that that was the case with our copy since “first edition” has been carefully written on the flyleaf.  One of the fun aspects of a rare book is the evidence of a book’s history in the notations often left behind by previous owners.

Title page of our early edition.  One way to tell that this is a very early edition is that there are only two quotations on the page to the left.  Later editions had three (see below).

The Special Collections Department holds several editions and copies of On the Origin of Species (call numbers can be found by searching here).  For instance, we have an edition printed here in the United States dated 1860.  As with all rare books, this particular book holds its own history and provenance which is often impossible to fully determine.  The first flyleaf contains several iterations of “John C. Dalton, 499 W. Huron St.”  Was the person trying to remember Dalton’s address?  Who was this person (one of the owners at one time was a James E. Gross)?  Who was John C. Dalton?

Title page of the second edition described above.

A John Call Dalton happens to have worked in the sciences in the area of experimental physiology in New York City.  499 W. Huron Street in New York City is about 6-10 miles from the present locations of where he worked (College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Long Island College Hospital) when this second edition of On the Origin of Species was published.  Maybe this was the John C. Dalton, or maybe someone completely different (6-10 miles is a rather long way away from 499 W. Huron!).  Who knows?  Just one more example of the mysteries each rare book, or any book more than a few decades old, holds.

               John C. Dalton’s name and address can be seen written numerous times above.

In addition to the most famous of Darwin’s works, we also hold other publications by Darwin.  These can be found by searching the library’s records (the search system can be found on the library’s e-Library).

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (the two orange volumes) and the American edition of On the Origin of Species (pictured on top).

One of these works holds yet one more example of how a book’s value does not necessarily come from just the information on the pages, but also from the book’s own history and the various owners of the book.  We have the two volumes of Darwin’s The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (published in 1897).  These volumes (call number QH365 D259va2 1897) were once owned by Iowa State graduate and suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt.  More about Catt can be found by taking a look at her collection’s finding aid and previous blog posts here and here.

Carrie Chapman Catt’s bookplate.

In addition to rare books, we also have collections related to Darwin.  For instance, the Louis Hermann Pammel Papers contains a paper (found in RS 13/5/13, box 22, folder 2) about Charles Darwin.  We also have an Evolution/Creation Collection.  The Evolution/Creation Collection was created as an artificial collection by Iowa State University’s Special Collections Department in the early 1980s as a response to an increased interest of the campus community after a series of campus lectures took place on creationism and evolution.  The collection contains copies of articles, correspondence, speeches, debates, court cases, presentations, and publications relating to the evolution/creation debate and its role in public education.  The finding aid for this collection can be found here.

Of course, scans of many of other copies of the books described above can be found online, in addition to Darwin’s papers and manuscripts.  In addition, a census of the extant copies of of the first edition of On the Origin of Species is being put together.  More on this can be found here, in addition to online versions of Darwin’s papers and manuscripts.