Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s collection of rare books

Hello everyone.  At recent events here at the Museum, including the Museum’s 15th Anniversary Celebration, the Collections Division staff offered behind-the-scenes tours of the library, archives, and artifact storage areas.  We hope everyone enjoys these tours as much as we enjoy giving them.

But we know not everyone will have the opportunity to take one of these behind-the-scenes tours.  For this blog, we wanted to give everyone a behind-the-scenes virtual tour.  Not the full tour, but at least a glimpse of the Museum’s collection of rare books.  The Library here at the Museum holds a large collection of Native American and Seminole related newspapers, serials, books, and a large collection of rare books. 

The Library has approximately 300 books that are designated as rare.  These books are designated rare based on several criteria.  The primary determining factor is the date the book was published.  Other factors include the monetary value and the scarcity of the book.

A portion of the Museum’s collection of rare books

Additional factors may also play a role, including former ownership of the book, or if the book is signed or inscribed in some way.  The Library may also place a book in the collection of rare books if it its particularly fragile or if it requires special handling. 

One of the oldest and most rare books here at the Museum is William Bartram’s, Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, The Cherokee Country, The Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Choctaws …, published in 1791.  In this well-known book, Bartram writes at length about his observations of Native Americans including Seminoles. 

The rare books can be used for research, admired as works of art and craftsmanship, and preserved and displayed as important artifacts.  The Library’s rare book Florida Enchantments by A. W. Dimock and Julian A. Dimock will be featured in the Museum’s upcoming Julian Dimock exhibit, Camera-man, The Seminole Through the Lends of Julian Dimock, opening in December, 2012.

Rare book, “Florida Enchantments,” by A. W. Dimock and Julian Dimock, 1908.

Published in 1908, the book contains many images made from photographs taken by Julian Dimock.  The book includes a chapter entitled, “A Vanishing Race” which focuses on the Seminole Tribe.  Of special note is the book’s Art Nouveau-style cover which depicts a stylized Florida swamp scene.  The book should be a great addition to the exhibit. 

The collection of rare books is stored separate from the Library’s general books, and stored on the shelves in a different way.  They are stored flat on the side of the book.  This is done to remove any mechanical stress from the book and to best preserve it.  Until recently, the rare books were placed directly on the shelves in stacks several books high, with tissue paper between each book.  But, we wanted to improve the way the books are stored. 

Rare book storage

Over the past few months, we started a project to house the rare books in custom made boxes.  We made arrangements with an outside vendor to make custom housings for the books.  We measure each book and then send the measurements to the vendor.  The vendor makes and ships the custom boxes flat to us, and we complete the construction process here at the Museum.  The finished box is a custom fitting and custom made box for each book.  We complete the housing with a label that identifies the accession number, title, and author of the book.

Custom housing

We are approximately one-third finished with the project, and hope to complete it in the next few months.  Long-range goals for the Museum also include improved shelving for the rare books.

If you have a chance to participate in a behind-the-scenes tour here at the Museum, be sure to check out the Library’s collection of rare books, and the status of the custom housing project. 

We look forward to seeing you then.


For more information on rare books in general please see:

The Library of Congress, The Rare Book and Special Collections Division:


Rare Book School:


American Library Association’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section:


Smithsonian Libraries:



For more information on rare books related to Native Americans please see:

CornellUniversity Library:



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