Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect

A collage of faces, books, the wright flyer, a squid and a background of leaves and plants.

The Smithsonian Libraries has long benefited from the generosity of book collectors who have helped build our world-class museum library system. Our exhibition, Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect, tells the captivating stories of the book collectors whose diverse interests and passions helped shape—and continue to contribute to—the Smithsonian Libraries. Through rare books, manuscripts and other intriguing items from across the varied libraries of the Smithsonian, the exhibition highlights the personal motivations and enduring impact of book collectors who were compelled to collect, preserve, and share their “magnificent obsessions” with the nation.

With this accompanying collection of fully digitized books, we invite you to explore in depth some of the very treasures these collectors were inspired to make their own, then share with the world.

Cover of Come Josephine in my flying machine

Come Josephine in my flying machine

Fisher, Fred; Bryan, Alfred; Starmer; Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music (Smithsonian Institution. Libraries)
Shapiro
c1910
Cover of Come, take a trip in my air ship

Come, take a trip in my air ship

Evans, George; Shields, Ren; Robinson, Ethel; Starmer; Chas. K. Harris (Firm); Robert Teller Sons & Dorner.; Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music (Smithsonian Institution. Libraries)
Chas. K. Harris
c1904
Cover of D. Johann Christian Daniel Schrebers Beschreibung der Gralser

D. Johann Christian Daniel Schrebers ... Beschreibung der Gräser T.1 (1769)

Schreber, Johann Christian Daniel; Crusius, Carl Lebrecht; Geyser, Christian Gottlieb; Sturm, Jakob
Bey Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius
1769-1810
Cover of D. Johann Christian Daniel Schrebers- Beschreibung der Gralser

D. Johann Christian Daniel Schrebers ... Beschreibung der Gräser T.2 (1810)

Schreber, Johann Christian Daniel; Crusius, Carl Lebrecht; Geyser, Christian Gottlieb; Sturm, Jakob
Bey Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius
1769-1810
Cover of Della trasportatione dell'obelisco vaticano

Della trasportatione dell'obelisco vaticano

Fontana, Domenico; Bonifacio, Natale
Appresso Domenico Basa
1590
Cover of Fasciculus medicine in quo continentur- videlicet

Fasciculus medicine in quo continentur: videlicet

Ketham, Joannes de; Mondino del Luzzi; Morsiano, Pietro Andrea
Impressus per Ioannes [et] Gregorius de Gregorijs fratres
1495 die 15 Octobris
Cover of Fugaku hyakkei v. 1

Fugaku hyakkei v. 1

富嶽百景
Katsushika, Hokusai
Cover of Fugaku hyakkei v. 2

Fugaku hyakkei v. 2

富嶽百景
Katsushika, Hokusai
Cover of Fugaku hyakkei v. 3

Fugaku hyakkei v. 3

富嶽百景
Katsushika, Hokusai
Cover of Gabinetto armonico pieno d'istromenti sonori

Gabinetto armonico pieno d'istromenti sonori

Buonanni, Filippo
Nella Stamperìa di Giorgio Placho
1722
Cover of Hippity hop

Hippity hop

Donaldson, Walter; Lewis, Sam M.; Young, Joe; Ahlert, Fred E.; Barbelle; Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music (Smithsonian Institution. Libraries)
Waterson-Berlin & Snyder Co
c1919
Cover of Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam

Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam t. 1

Seba, Albertus; Boerhaave, Herman; Gaubius, Hieronymus David; Massuet, Pierre; Jancourt, L.; Musschenbroek, Petrus van; Artedi, Peter
Apud J. Wetstenium, & Gul. Smith, & Janssonio-Waesbergios
1734-1765
Cover of Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam

Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam t. 2

Seba, Albertus; Boerhaave, Herman; Gaubius, Hieronymus David; Massuet, Pierre; Jancourt, L.; Musschenbroek, Petrus van; Artedi, Peter
Apud J. Wetstenium, & Gul. Smith, & Janssonio-Waesbergios
1734-1765
Cover of Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam

Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, et iconibus artificiosissimis expressio, per universam physices historiam t. 3

Seba, Albertus; Boerhaave, Herman; Gaubius, Hieronymus David; Massuet, Pierre; Jancourt, L.; Musschenbroek, Petrus van; Artedi, Peter
Apud J. Wetstenium, & Gul. Smith, & Janssonio-Waesbergios
1734-1765
Cover of Machinæ coelestis pars prior-posterior

Machinæ coelestis pars prior[-posterior] v 1

Hevelius, Johannes; Stech, Andreas
Auctoris typis & sumptibus imprimebat S. Reiniger
1673-79

10. Europe's Best Observatory

Cover of Machinæ coelestis pars prior-posterior

Machinæ coelestis pars prior[-posterior] v 2

Hevelius, Johannes; Stech, Andreas
Auctoris typis & sumptibus imprimebat S. Reiniger
1673-79

10. Europe's Best Observatory

Cover of Missionary travels and researches in South Africa

Missionary travels and researches in South Africa v.1 (1857)

Livingstone, David; Day & Son,; William Clowes and Sons,; Russell E. Train Africana Collection (Smithsonian Libraries)
J. Murray
1857
Cover of Missionary travels and researches in South Africa

Missionary travels and researches in South Africa v.2 (1857)

Livingstone, David; Day & Son,; William Clowes and Sons,; Russell E. Train Africana Collection (Smithsonian Libraries)
J. Murray
1857
Cover of Ottonis de Guericke Experimenta nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio

Ottonis de Guericke Experimenta nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio

Guericke, Otto von
Apud Joannem Janssonium à Waesberge
anno 1672

55. First Rotary Generator

Cover of Poems of cabin and field

Poems of cabin and field

Dunbar, Paul Laurence; Morse, Alice C.
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1899
Cover of Random records of a lifetime, 1846-1931 actually 1932 v. 2

Random records of a lifetime, 1846-1931 [actually 1932] v. 2

Holmes, William Henry; Peale, A. C.; Hayden, F. V.
1932
Cover of Random records of a lifetime, 1846-1931 actually 1932 v. 5

Random records of a lifetime, 1846-1931 [actually 1932] v. 5

Holmes, William Henry; Hayden, F. V.; Dutton, Clarence E.; Langley, S. P.; Powell, John Wesley; Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories (U.S.)
1846-1931
Cover of The air balloon

The air balloon

Chard, G. W.; Oakman, John; Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music (Smithsonian Institution. Libraries)
s.n
1784?]
Cover of The gentleman and cabinet-maker's director

The gentleman and cabinet-maker's director

Chippendale, Thomas
Printed for the author, and sold at his house ... also by T. Osborne ..., H. Piers ..., R. Sayer ..., J. Swan ... [and by 2 others in 2 other places]
1754
Cover of The Seminoles of Florida

The Seminoles of Florida

Willson, Minnie (Moore); Willson, James M., Jr
Moffat, Yard and Company
1910
Cover of Vlyssis Aldrouandi patricii Bononiensis Monstrorum historia

Vlyssis Aldrouandi patricii Bononiensis Monstrorum historia

Aldrovandi, Ulisse; Ambrosini, Bartolommeo; Beckwith-Browning-Peterson Teratology Collection (Smithsonian Libraries)
Cover of De proprietatibus rerum

[De proprietatibus rerum]

Bartholomaeus, Anglicus