Robert R. Harvey Rare Book Open House

Bob Harvey speaks to visitors about his rare book collection.


On Tuesday, October 12, ISU Library Special Collections hosted the Robert R. Harvey Rare Book Open House, a viewing of sixteen selected volumes from Professor Emeritus Robert Harvey’s recent donation of ninety-two rare books focused mainly on landscape architecture.  The volumes displayed for the public ranged in date from The Practical Fruit Gardener (1724) to Farm Economy: Twelve Courses in Agriculture (1916).  Professor Harvey was in attendance to speak about his collection, and I answered questions about the conservation of the collection.  Over 50 visitors viewed the collection during the open house.

The entire Conservation Lab assisted with the preparations for this open house: our summer interns, our current intern, our staff, and our student employees all pitched in, whether building boxes, performing conservation treatments, or helping with exhibit cradles and labels.  Thanks to all of them for contributing to a successful event!

What made this open house unique from a conservation perspective was our decision to let visitors handle some of the volumes.  Being able to handle the materials allowed visitors to delve more deeply into the content of some of the volumes.  Preservation printed up signs to indicate clearly which books could be handled and which could not:

Our student employee, Hope, suggested using green and red colored borders on the signs to visually signal which books were safe to handle and which were not.  Individual exhibit labels explained the historical significance of each book, and also included a “Conservator’s Note,” explaining the conservation treatment that had been performed in simplified, layman’s terms.

Here are some highlights from the open house:

The Practical Fruit Gardener (1724)

The Practical Fruit Gardener (1724).  Stephen Switzer, landscape designer, horticulturalist and author was one of the most prominent figures in the rise of the 18th-century landscape garden. Having played key roles in the creation of Blenheim in Oxfordshire, Castle Howard in North Yorkshire and Stowe in Buckinghamshire during his early career, Switzer went on to promote the improvement of various aspects of landscape-making.

In his publications, Switzer pioneered what he called ‘Rural and Extensive Gardening’, which integrated the economics of kitchen gardening and animal husbandry with the aesthetics of landscape design (Dixon Hunt & Willis 1975). By Timur Tatlioglu.

Conservator’s Note: This volume suffered from damage common to 18th century leather tightback bindings.  The leather along the joint had cracked, and the board was threatening to detach.  A portion of the leather on the spine was also missing, exposing the vulnerable folds of the pages.  The missing leather was filled in with dyed flax paper.  The cracked joint was mended with a Japanese, long-fibered tissue “band-aid” which had been dyed to match the original leather using acrylics.  Both repairs were then waxed and buffed to match the sheen of the original leather.  Inside the volume, a fold-out plan with a significant tear was mended with a very thin Japanese long-fibered tissue and wheat starch paste.

The Complete Gardener (1827)

The Complete Gardener (1827).   The Complete Gardener was authored by John Abercrombie (b. 1726), an eminent horticulturalist and author.  His first work was published as being the work of Thomas Mawe, gardener to the Duke of Leeds, and its success led Abercrombie to use the name of Mawe on all his publications.  In addition to the Complete Gardener, he also authored The Universal Dictionary of Gardening and Botany (1806), The Garden Mushroom (1779), and The Gardener’s Pocket Dictionary (1786).  Iowa State’s copy is the only volume listed for the U.S. in World Cat; the other is located in the American Academy in Rome.

Conservator’s Note:  This well-used volume required repairs ranging from page reattachment to rebuilding the bent, worn corners of the boards.  The box is a chemise and girdle, which protects the fragile surface of the binding from abrasion.

New England Book of Fruits (1847)

New England Book of Fruits (1847).  Robert Manning (1784-1842) was a pomologist based in New England.   His garden contained over 2,000 varieties of fruits; 1,000 of which were pears.  He was considered an authority and his naming of varieties were deemed definitive. With the assistance of John M. Ives, Manning published Book of Fruits, being a descriptive catalogue of the most valuable varieties of the pear, apple, peach, plum, and cherry for New England culture in 1838. Like the previous editions, this third edition (1847) of Manning’s manual was meant to provide practical knowledge of fruit varieties in one volume at an affordable price.  This book included descriptions of 55 varieties of apples, 69 varieties of pears, 19 varieties of cherries, 24 varieties of peaches and 29 varieties of plums.

Conservator’s Note: This book was missing most of its spine, exposing the vulnerable folds of the pages.  The missing spine covering was replaced with Japanese long-fibered paper dyed to match the original cloth.  The dyed paper was then waxed to match the sheen of the original spine fragment, which you can distinguish at the bottom of the spine.  The binding speaks to the design conventions of the 1840s, when publishers were experimenting with bookcloth patterns.  This bookcloth was stamped to give it the appearance of watered silk.  In the late 1840s, publishers also began gold-stamping a centerpiece that reflected the book’s content, as in the case of these golden pears.

The Cottage Gardener's Dictionary (1852)

The Cottage Gardener’s Dictionary (1852).  G.W. Johnson (d.1888) was a prominent gardener, lawyer, and professor.  His first independent work was A History of English Gardening, Chronological, Biographical, Literary, and Critical published in 1829.  He also edited (1844-1866) the Gardeners’ Almanack and published The Principles of Practical Gardening, which was subsequently much enlarged and reissued in 1862 as The Science and Practice of Gardening.  A Dictionary of Gardening appeared in 1846, and met with a good reception, and The Cottage Gardener’s Dictionary was published in 1852.

Conservator’s Note: The spine and joints of this volume were repaired with dyed Japanese long-fibered paper.  The ephemera found tucked between the book’s pages were also preserved: they were encapsulated in Mylar film and labeled with their original locations within the pages of the book.  A tray to hold the encapsulated ephemera was built to fit inside a custom clamshell box, in order to keep all the materials together.


  1. Looks great! congrats on getting in on this project and working with the rare book library. I love the idea of the green and red borders, too. I may have to steal that idea!

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