Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Established in 1812 “for the encour­agement and cultivation of the sciences, and the advancement of useful learning,” the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia is the oldest natural sci­ences institution in the Western Hemi­sphere. The Academy’s Ewell Sale Stew­art Library, with its extensive collections of books, manuscripts, maps, paintings, and photographs, has been des­ignated a major research library by the U.S. Department of Education. The Ewell Sale Stewart Library is unique for its holdings of rare and historic works in every dis­cipline of the natur­al sciences, as well as for its man­uscripts and archival col­lections. With two hundred thousand vol­umes – larger than the libraries of many colleges and universi­ties – the collec­tion is particularly strong in the history of science, evolution, ecology, systematics, marine and freshwater biol­ogy, stratigraphy, and comparative bio­chemistry. The library is named in honor of Ewell Sale Stewart (1924-1987), a library benefactor and active Academy member for many years.

Created at the founding meeting of the Academy in 1812, the library contains books dating to the sixteenth century. Among printed works detailing signifi­cant developments in the field of natural history are beautifully illustrated works from the eighteenth and nineteenth cen­turies. The holdings also include a wealth of expedition literature, including the works of distinguished explorers, such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (see “Firm Foundations in Philadelphia: The Lewis and Clark Expe­dition’s Ties to Philadelphia” by Frank Muhly, Summer 2001), and the published journals of amateur naturalists. Authors and artists represented in the collection include Louis Agassiz, John James Audubon, William Bartram, Mark Catesby, Charles Darwin, Charles Willson Peale, Pierre Joseph Redoute, and Alexander Wilson.

Of both scientific and artistic note are three late nineteenth-century books: Mar­vels of Pond-Life: A Year’s Recreations Among the Polyps, Infusoria, Rotifers, Water-Bears, and Polyzoa (1871) by Henry J. Slack; The Microscope, Or Descriptions of Various Objects of Especial Interest Beauty (1880) by Mrs. F. Marshall Ward; and Objects For the Microscope, Being a Popular Description of the Most Instructive and Beautiful Subjects for Exhibition (1870) by L. Lane Clarke. The covers of each book are handsomely tooled and gilded.

By the mid-nineteenth century, micro­scopes had become widely available and were used as a popular form of enter­tainment in many middle-class house­holds. Unlike earlier, hand-printed vol­umes that had only been available to a small group of scholars, these books were inexpensively produced and widely distributed. They were published at a time when the Academy’s Microscopical Section was formed and when micro­scopes made the leap from the sci­entific laboratory to the parlor, appealing to people of all ages and from all walks of life.

For more information, write: Acade­my of Natural Sciences of Philadel­phia, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Park­way, Philadelphia, PA 19103- 1195; telephone (215) 299-1000; or visit the Acade­my of Natural Sciences of Philadel­phia website.