An image of an item from the Rare Books collection at Queensland Museum

Rare Book Collection

The museum library has just over 2,400 titles within the Rare Books Collection, spanning the 16th century through to the 20th century. Much of this material is irreplaceable and, being paper-based objects, are in a fragile state. It’s easy to forget these rare books were originally found in labs, offices and on shelves in libraries for reference to the latest discoveries of their time.

This collection is accessible only by appointment. 

Scientific illustrations

There's an array of titles in the collection that are valued for their hand coloured illustrations or being the volume containing the first description of a species.

John Gould's "Birds of Australia" in seven volumes was released in 1848. Only 250 sets were published. The folio's not only describes, but also illustrates 600 Australian birds. It was groundbreaking when published, with about half of the species included being previously unknown. These days it's coveted for the beautiful hand-coloured lithographic illustrations.

Expedition reports

Expedition reports encompass rare works documenting the journeys and scientific discoveries in the 19th century and early 20th century. The library holds expedition reports relating to the voyage of H.M.S. "Challenger" around the world in the years 1872 -1876; Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14; and Siboga-Expeditie. These reports are integral to scientists today as they often contain the first time many marine specimens were described and identified.

Oldest book

Our oldest book is the Latin text Libri de piscibus marinis (English translation being Summary of Marine Fishes). It was published in Lyon, France in 1554 and is considered to be one of the first volumes dedicated to ichthyology. Rondelet also the created of the woodblock illustrations within the 600 page volume.

Cutest book

This is Ann...she's dying to meet you

Can a book be cute? Even when it's subject matter is malaria prevention? This 1944 US War Department booklet features 'Ann', an anopheles mosquito, who advises troops, in a humorous manner, how to avoid malaria. The illustrations are by Army Captain Theodore Seuss Geisel (aka Dr Seuss). The museum library is one of four libraries in Australia to hold this book, and one of 35 worldwide.

Provenance: Part of Elizabeth Marks Collection, housed in entomology.

scientific drawing of a Gouldian Finch from Birds of Australia volume 3

Gouldian Finch, from Vol 3 of "Birds of Australia". Image: Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Frontispiece woodcut illustration of the author Guillaume Rondelet

Frontispiece woodcut illustration of the author Guillaume Rondelet. Image: Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Front cover of book titled This is Ann book in Queensland Museum Rare Book Collection

Front cover of "This is Ann: she's dying to meet you". Image: Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

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Did you know you don't have to come to the museum to see our collection?

Over 10,000 items of our cultural collection and over 1 million specimens are now accessible online for free. All you need is your device and a little bit of inspiration to explore Queensland’s cultural and natural heritage.

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