ONPRC Rare Book Collection: Selected Works of Art and Science

The Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) has a collection of rare nonhuman primate books, a selection of these books have been digitized as part of the LSTA funded ONPRC Rare Books Digitization Project. This historic collection dates from the early 1960’s when librarian Isabel McDonald (after whom the ONPRC library is named) was given a mission by then ONPRC Director William Montagna of creating a historical rare book collection. Federal funds that supported the library could not be used to purchase these books so McDonald worked with donors and groups such the Beaverton Women’s Club to support the library’s acquisitions. The Beaverton club raised money for the primate center as a philanthropy project and decided that a collection of historical material would be appropriate use of the funds.

For many years only ONPRC or OHSU patrons could enjoy these wonderful books but now digitization has allowed worldwide accessibility. Selection of books from the collection for digitization was difficult but decisions were based on rarity, interest, artistic and scientific merit. All of the eleven books are copyright free  and at the time of selection none of the books were available online.

This digitization project was supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library services and technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.

ONPRC is supported by NIH grant P51OD011092

The books included in the exhibit are as follows:

William Charles Linnaeus Martin 

The history of the dog: its origin, physical and moral characteristics, and its principal varieties.  Bound with A sketch of the history of monkeys.  London: Charles Knight & Co., 1845; 1848

Due to financial cutbacks at the Zoological Society of London, Martin lost his position as a scientific officer. He then became a freelance natural history writer. Martin was a prolific author; his books were popular and entertaining but were also respected by his fellow naturalists. His history of the dog is well known and owned by a number of libraries but the history of monkeys is rarer and contains a number of interesting illustrations.


Martha E. Buhre

Tess: an educated chimpanzee. New York: Saalfield Publishing, 1900

This children’s book, containing many photographs, is an account of an early experiment in the training and education of a “monkey who wore dresses, played with dolls, set at the table to eat, rode a bicycle and did hundreds of amusing things”. The book was listed in Saalfield Publishing’s Christmas Book List in 1900 and was offered for sale for 50 cents. Buhre’s account, although describing Tess with affection, reflects some of the less enlightened ideas of her time on primate well-being.


Louis Montane 

Un chimpance cubano 

Habana: El Siglo XX, 1915

 Montane, a physician and professor of anthropology at the University of Havana, Cuba, presented this paper subtitled: notes on a chimp born in Cuba to the Cuban Society of Natural History. It has been described by renowned anthropologists of the time as a valuable account of an important event as it documented the first successful case of breeding and rearing a Chimpanzee in the West Indies. Only 17 pages long, it includes 4 pages of photographs of the baby chimpanzee and its mother.


Jacques Lordat

Observations sur quelques points de l’anatomie du singe vert… Paris: Gougon, 1804

Jacques Lordat, a prominent physician on the Montpellier faculty of medicine in Paris, was a prolific writer. Several of his works on primatology have already been digitized but this is a rarer work worthy of greater exposure.


Hans Wilhelm Carl Friedenthal

Tierhaaratlas. Jena: G. Fischer, 1911.

Friedenthal was head of the Department of Experimental Biology at the University of Berlin. He funded his own research and the expense of producing this atlas, which was a major factor in the loss of his family fortune.  Although this book illustrates the hair and skin of many species, the section on nonhuman primates is outstanding containing vibrant color illustrations that make it well worth including in this collection.


Nicolas Henri Jacob

 Storia naturale delle scimie.  Milano: Presso F. Artaria, 1812

This early edition by French artist Nicolas Henri Jacob has text in Italian, French and German. Later editions are in Italian only. This monograph is based on the work of renowned naturalists of the time and gives wonderful accounts of the then current knowledge/beliefs about monkeys. In addition, it is a masterpiece of the printer’s art with decorative double frames around text and illustrations. It is unfortunate but not surprising that over the years illustrations have been sold independently at auction for large amounts of money. This edition had some missing illustrations when purchased but it is still a wonderful work of art and science.


Jean-Baptiste Audebert

Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis. Paris: Desray, 1800

Histoire Naturelle de Singes et des Makis [Natural History of Apes and Monkeys] is regarded as one of the pioneering works of French natural history publications. It was originally published in 10 parts, the first two in February and July 1798, the remainder between January and October 1799. Jean-Baptiste Audebert trained as a miniaturist painter and it is thought this initial training allowed him to capture the scientific detail that is the earmark of the wonderful engravings used to illustrate this book. Audebert excelled in the painting of primates combining scientific knowledge with skill and innovative techniques producing images with a high aesthetic appeal. In his illustrations he masterfully captures the form and anatomy of monkeys and also their characteristics and mannerisms.


Pierre Andre Latreille

Histoire naturelle des singes, faisant partie de celle des quadrupedes de buffon, présentée sous un ordre, dans lequel les supplémens sont fondus avec le premiere texte; et augmentée de notes d'additions considerables, avec figures, gravées sur des dessins neufs de Barraband

V.1 & V. 2 Paris: F Dufart, 1801

Pierre Andre Latreille was one of the foremost entomologists of his time; during his tenure at the Museum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle he produced a number of zoological works. These two volumes are described as being based on Buffon’s Natural History but with expanded content and illustrations. Combined, the volumes give scholarly account of the natural history of monkeys with many detailed engravings.


Alfred Grandidier

Histoire physique, naturelle et politique de Madagascar.  vol ix, tome iv, atlas 2, Paris, 1875

Grandidier was a French naturalist and explorer from a very wealthy family. After his first visit to Madagascar in 1865, he became devoted to the study of the island. Grandidier’s great work, L'Histoire physique, naturelle et politique de Madagascar was undertaken in cooperation with others such as Alphonse Milne Edwards and Leon Vaillant. The work ran to 40 volumes with the final volumes published posthumously by his son. The project digitized part two of the atlas (part one is owned and was digitized by the Smithsonian), which contains no text. It is a combination of full page black and white and color illustrations ranging from incredibly detailed anatomical drawings to beautiful images of lemurs in natural settings.


Arthur Keith

An introduction to the study of the anthropoid apes. London: Page & Pratt, 1897

This short story, written by renowned Scottish anatomist and anthropologist, Arthur Keith, is an important review of contemporary knowledge of nonhuman primates.