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PCA 202: Introduction to Art History - Special Collections Tour

Prints in Special Collections

The department of Special Collections, Rare Books, and University Archives at Butler University has several print collections in its holdings. We have examples of engravings, etchings, and woodcuts to name a few. 

The following are a selection of print collections and digital collections that have materials available online. Follow the links to access the digital collections and view materials.

Jeanette Siron Pelton Botanical Prints Collection (PRI001)

The Jeanette Siron Pelton Botanical Print Collection, created by a gift of Dr. John F. Pelton and the Jeanette Siron Pelton Memorial Fund in 1969, is housed in the Special Collections at Butler University Libraries. The collection comprises 71 original plates from herbals, plant histories, and botanical magazines published in the 15th through the 19th centuries, illustrating technological developments in early modern botanical, pharmacological, and medical sciences as well as the history and development of botanical illustration from woodcuts, to copperplate engravings, to chromolithographs.  A few engraved portraits of botanists are included.

Excerpt from Treasures at Butler University: Some Special Collections in the University Libraries, 1986, Page 2.

“The idea of forming a study collection of original plates from important books in the history and development of botanical illustration was first proposed to Dr. John F. Pelton, chairman of the Botany Department, by Richard A. Davis, University Librarian, in 1969. Dr. Pelton’s enthusiastic support of the project, plus available funds from the Jeannette Siron Pelton Memorial Fund quickly led to a search for antiquarian book and print dealers who carried this kind of material. As the prints were acquired and matted, print storage boxes were purchased to house them. In 1972, the Butler Women’s Committee donated a print cabinet for the collection.

The collection begins with a leaf from the Hortus Sanitatus of 1491, illustrated with woodcuts copied from manuscripts; followed by leaves from Leonhart Fuchs’s New Kreüterbuch of 1543, one of the earliest botanical works to reflect the new spirit of empirical observation and the beginnings of modern science. As scientific inquiry gathered momentum, the woodcut was replaced in the mid-sixteenth century by the copperplate engraving which dominated the “golden age” of botanical illustration until the end of the eighteenth century, when printing from the surface of stone, or lithography, was invented by Aloys Senefelder in 1798. The lithograph quickly supplanted the costly engraving as a much cheaper and faster method of reproducing pictures. Thomas Bewick’s revival of “white line” wood engraving at about the same time, was used for illustrating the cheaper popular natural history books.

The collection provides primary source materials illustrating the technological developments of early modern science, and has served the University as an important educational resource for seminars, community groups, Continuing Education programs, Elderhostel, and exhibition purposes. The entire collection was exhibited under the titled “Art in the Service of Science” at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1973. The botanical prints were displayed in the Miami Museum of Science, Miami, Florida, in April 1979 where Mr. Davis presented a public lecture on the collection.

These prints and zoological prints which follow, were selected to represent technical innovation in scientific illustration, and for their intrinsic beauty. A few portraits of botanists and zoologists were added, and are listed and described at the end of each list.”

The following are a selection of prints from the collection. However, it is highly encouraged to view the entire collection via the link following the selection of prints. Follow the links with each photo to view larger images of the materials. The links below each individual print leads to the individual print in the digital collection where you can find format and publication information.

To explore and view all of the materials in this collection,  follow the link below to access the digital collection. 

Zoological Print Collection (PRI002)

Excerpt from Treasures at Butler University: Some Special Collections in the University Libraries, 1986, Page 7.

“In 1970 the library received a portion of a grant awarded to Butler by Sears, Roebuck and Company, which was to be used for library enrichment. It seemed reasonable at the time to form a parallel collection of zoological prints to accompany the botanical prints. Both collections begin with leaves containing woodcuts from the Hortus Sanitatus of 1491, and both terminate with lithographic illustrations from mid-nineteenth century American and European natural history publications.”

Select Prints from the Richard A. Davis Faculty Portraits Print Collection (PRI006)

The Richard A. Davis Faculty Portraits Print Collection (PRI 006) contains woodcut prints of Butler University faculty created by Butler University Librarian Richard A. Davis. He selected the faculty he portrayed in his prints. In addition to the faculty, Davis also created woodcut prints of select literary figures--unassociated with Butler University--which are also included in this collection. 

Excerpt from Treasures at Butler University: Some Special Collections in the University Libraries, 1986, Page 17.

“Twenty-seven woodcut portraits of Butler Faculty members by Richard A. Davis. This collection evolved over a 16-year period. In spirit it carries on a tradition of paying homage to individuals of achievement…This collection is gratefully dedicated to Blanche Stillson (1890-1977), patron and benefactor of the Hugh Thomas Miller Rare Book Room [now referred to as Special Collections]. Her legacy has allowed for the establishment of library special collections as a viable and indispensable part of the University.”

The following are a selection of prints from the collection. Follow the links to view larger images of the materials.


Email Butler University Libraries
Irwin Library: 317-940-9227
Science Library: 317-940-9937

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