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Mann Library

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Rare & Distinctive Collections

Mann Library’s Rare and Distinctive (RAD) collections actually encompass all of Mann’s collections housed in the Mann stacks, the Library Annex, and especially Mann’s vault. Why the new “Rare and Distinctive” description and not “Special Collections” as before? Mann’s agricultural, life sciences and human ecology collections have long carried the distinction of being among the finest in the US, while some of our rare collections are also among the best and most complete in the world. You can read about CUL’s more holistic approach to collections here.

Rare and/or fragile materials from Mann’s RAD collection in our vault (and in some cases, the Annex) do not circulate. They may be requested for viewing in advance by appointment from one hour after Mann Library opens until 4pm, Monday through Friday. You can refer to our Hours page for the most up-to-date information on the availability of the RAD collections viewing area; please contact us no less than 24 hours in advance with your request. This is required to allow our staff the time to retrieve the items ahead of your visit. We highly recommend that you review our policies and procedures for viewing RAD collections materials prior to your visit.

The materials you seek may also be online.

We have methodically digitized millions of pages of materials from our rare and distinctive collections so there is a good chance that what you’re seeking may also be available online via one or more of the following digital collections:

Global collections

Local Cornell collections

About the Collection

Mann Library’s vault hold materials that are too rare, valuable or fragile to be housed in the regular stacks. They consist of more than 17,000 volumes, many of which contain hand-colored illustrations, engravings and lithographs, as well as rare materials belonging to the Bailey Hortorium Library.

Many of our rare materials originated from the personal libraries of great Cornell figures such as Liberty Hyde Bailey, Anna and John Henry Comstock, and Martha van Rensselaer. In several cases these bequests have become the basis of specialized collections of particular importance, including:

Phillips Beekeeping Collection

An endowment named in honor of apiculturist and Cornell professor Dr. Everett Franklin Phillips (1878-1951) supports the world’s largest and most valuable collection of books and manuscripts on bees and beekeeping. The Phillips Beekeeping Collection endowment, established in the mid-1920s, is Mann Library’s oldest endowment, originally funded by New York State beekeepers and royalties received from the Dyce Honey Patent.

Many titles are online as part of The Hive and the Honeybee collection.

Rice Poultry Collection

The Rice Poultry Collection, named after Cornell professor James E. Rice, America’s first professor of poultry husbandry, is a major repository of information on poultry science. Over 800 pre-1900 volumes, the earliest and rarest works in the poultry collection, are housed in the Mann vault.

Language of Flowers Collection

Our remarkable Language of Flowers Collection was donated to the library by award-winning garden writer Isabel Zucker ’26. The 147 volumes in this collection include many early 19th-century texts on the art of expressing emotions, sentiments, and moral lessons through floral arrangements. They are a valuable resource for researchers in Victorian culture, horticulture as art, and women’s lifestyles.

Many titles are online as part of The Language of Flowers collection; these also make up much of the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s comprehensive Language of Flowers collection.