The LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden has many special collections in a variety of formats. Select collections are described below. Additionally, collections that can be searched online are linked below. Please note that certain collections are best searched using the library catalog. For questions about using these collections, please contact the library using the information at the top of the right-hand column.
Please note that not all collections are easily searched online at this time. For questions about the library's holdings or to arrange a research visit, please contact the Special Collections Librarian.
The Art and Illustration Database is currently offline. Please contact the Special Collections Librarian for more information. This collection of botanical art and illustration is one of the world's largest. It contains over 25,000 pieces of original works in various media including watercolor, pen and ink and pencil. Formats range from silk scrolls and copper plates to woodcut blocks and large format photographs. The library has items dating from the sixteenth century through the present. This database offers an in-process inventory of these collections, which include not only portraits of individual plants but also landscape designs.
The General Research Collection consists of over 550,000 volumes. Supporting research and study in the fields of botanical science, horticulture, and landscape/garden design, the Mertz Library is noted for the importance, breadth, and accessibility of its holdings. The collections are housed in a 9,000 square- foot, environmentally controlled storage facility and include books published after 1753 all of the Library's 12,000 serial titles. (search the collection here)
The Rare Book and Folio Collections, housed in the Rare Book and Folio Room, include the earliest manuscripts and printed books as well as some of the most beautiful botanical and horticultural volumes ever produced. The Rare Book Collection is mostly limited to pre-Linnean works (published before 1753). The Folio Collection is particularly notable for its holdings of 18th and 19th century sumptuous plate books featuring many fine botanical engravings and outstanding hand colored illustrations. All folio materials regardless of publication date are held in the Rare Book and Folio Room. (search the collection here)
The Pre-1850 Collection is made up of more than 9,600 books published between the years 1753 and 1850. The collection is particularly noteworthy for its early American imprints and fine bindings. These materials are considered rare and are subject to the same rules and restrictions governing the materials held in The Rare Book and Folio Room. (search the collection here)
The Circulating Collection is a select collection of some 4,000 titles of popular books focused on basic botany, gardening, and landscape design and is housed in the Mertz Library’s Shelby White and Leon Levy Reading Room. These books may be borrowed for home use, for up to three weeks. The collection features books on Bronx history, garden photography, botanical illustration, floral design, home gardening topics and even a selection of children’s titles. (search the collection here)
The Reference Collection is a carefully selected non-circulating collection of immediate value to staff and visitors for their quick reference content. These books include dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, atlases, directories, and bibliographies. Other authoritative works useful for plant identification, information concerning poisonous plants, economic uses of plants, plant care and maintenance, diagnosis of plant pests and diseases or common and scientific names are also found in the collection. (search the collection here)
Searchable Databases and Electronic Resources The Library provides access to hundreds of databases and e-journals. Many of these products are restricted to onsite use in the Library. Some require passwords. For these, ask for assistance at the Reference Desk. (an A-Z list of databses can be viewed here; a list of ejournals can be viewed here)
Mertz Digital provides online, full text access to hundreds of volumes in the collection. New content is being added weekly and consist mostly of material out of copyright or in the public domain. (vist the digital library here)
The Bindery Collection is a special collection of books about the care, conservation, and preservation of library materials. It is kept in the Conservation Lab but may be consulted by Library users. (search the collection here)
The Archives contain nearly a mile of unpublished archival documents and manuscripts such as correspondence, working papers, field notebooks, photographs, architectural plans, maps, illustrations, portraits, and artifacts. (view archival finding guides here)
The Lord & Burnham Collection holds architectural drawings, correspondence and account books for greenhouses, conservatories, and related structures, erected in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries by the Lord & Burnham Company and by other manufacturers associated with the firm. The collection contains over 140,000 architectural plans and includes data on structural and site elements for more than 7,000 glass structures. An index to over 100,000 of these plans is accessible via the L&B database. (learn more about the L&B collection and search the database here)
The Art and Illustration Collection is an important tool for taxonomic research and is a valuable resource for the scholarly comparison of original to published work and for locating illustrations of plants. The collection contains over 25,000 pieces and covers a broad range of techniques and media including line drawings, watercolors, oil paintings, sculpture, and photographs. (search the Art and Illustration database here)
The Seed and Nursery Catalog Collection contains approximately 58,000 catalogs, the earliest dating back to the first half of the 19th century. The collection is particularly strong in catalogs of American purveyors of seeds and plants in the 20th century. The holdings are currently being cataloged and can be searched using the online catalog. (select nursery and seed catalogs can be viewed here; search the collection here)
Index Seminum (Seed Exchange Lists) Collection contains printed lists of documented seed collections made from wild plants and made available for distribution through exchange by botanical gardens and arboreta. These publications are of interest to scholars studying the introduction of new species. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the first descriptions of new plants sometimes appeared in such publications.
The Photograph Collection The Garden has been collecting photographic material since its inception in the 19th century. Collections include a photographic history of the development of the Garden, organized by WPA workers and mounted into albums in the 1930’s. They now serve as an important source of visual documentation covering the Garden’s landscape, collections, staff and programs during its founding years. Other collections include photographs and films from botanical expeditions, plant portraits, and gardens and landscapes.The format of the collection ranges from lantern slides; glass plate negatives and autochromes to compact disc, 35mm slides, transparencies, video, 16mm film.
The Reprint Collection holds a large collection of scientific reprints arranged alphabetically by the first author's name. These are copies of articles, printed separately as overruns from scientific and technical journals, for distribution by the author(s). The collection conveniently brings together many of the writings of a single author. It often contains articles from journals not held in the general research collection. The Library is presently creating records in the online catalog to indicate that an author is represented in the collection.
The Vertical File is a subject file containing magazine and newspaper clippings, photographs, ephemeral publications, and other miscellany. This collection, begun in the 1920s, now numbers over 40,000 file folders. The file is still maintained and added to, although the Library depends increasingly on searchable databases for the kinds of information once designated for the Vertical File.
The forms below define the policies for use of Special Collections materials at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library.