Magnificent Obsessions

Why We Collect

The impulse to collect is human. We collect for many reasons: to gather information about the world, to preserve the past, or to follow our interests and desires. For some, it is a lifelong pursuit.

Pioneering collectors have long shaped Smithsonian Libraries. Each had their own unique passions, from hot-air balloons to seashells, from Japanese prints to world’s fairs. Together, these diverse collections form a vast network of knowledge.

Smithsonian Libraries continues to build upon the work of these curious collectors. We preserve historic treasures and everyday items to provide a window onto the past. We seek out new sources and collections to advance research and scholarship. And we share our collections with the world to inspire curiosity and spark new ideas. Like a modern day cabinet of curiosity, Smithsonian Libraries collections span eras and disciplines, enabling discovery, inspiring creativity, and illuminating history.

Our collections are living and breathing. What will we collect next?

What Do You Collect and Why?
If you don’t collect anything, what would you like to collect and why?
Share your MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION using #ICollectBecause


Through June 2020
Hours: 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM
(summer hours may vary)

Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition Gallery
in the
Smithsonian National Museum of
American History
14th St and Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

Curated by:
tephen H. Van Dyk
Mary Augusta Thomas,

Smithsonian Libraries

Magnificent Obsessions would not be possible without the generous support of this collection of contributors:

The Burpee Foundation, Inc.
John P. Ryan and Claire Prouty Mansur 
The Ronald J. and Deborah A. Monark Endowment
Relly and Brent Dibner Peter Bedini and Leandra Bedini
Laughlin Andrew Campbell Susan R. Hanes Richard W. Renner Emily Train Rowan and James A. Rowan 
Allan and Kim Stypeck C. Bowdoin Train and Georgina Sanger Jacqueline Vossler