Support Conservation of Our Agricultural Heritage: Materials Identified for Conservation Treatment

Despite care in recent years, many rare books, manuscript collections, and photographs in NAL's Special Collections have been damaged from poor environmental conditions, mishandling, or overuse. Types of damage include highly acidic, deteriorating, or stained paper; detached book spines; decaying leather bindings; cracked or broken glass negatives; and water damage. Because professional conservation work is very expensive, Special Collections must limit the number of materials treated each year. Materials are ranked by priority and those items in most need of repair and in highest demand by researchers have the highest priority.

Early American Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogs

A series of some of the earliest examples of American Seed Catalogs from the Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection have been identified as deserving conservation treatment. These catalogs from the late 1700s are used to document the introduction of specific types of seeds into the United States; the prices of plants during a particular time period; and the early methods of cleaning, preserving, and shipping seeds. They will be treated for ripped or brittle pages, paper loss, acidity, and split bindings.


Early USDA Plant Exploration

From the early 1800s, the federal government has encouraged the importation of seeds and plants useful to agriculture and industry. In 1898, USDA established the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction for the purpose of promoting agricultural exploration. The Office employed a number of agricultural explorers whose work is documented in Special Collections. Many of the photographs, negatives, journals, specimens and maps used to record the daily activities, scientific findings and cultural experiences of the USDA employees on the plant exploration trips are fragile and may deteriorate completely with continued use. The plant exploration materials are popular with researchers. The first two collections that will be conserved within this subject area are:

  • Frank N. Meyer Collection
    From his first plant collecting expedition in 1904 to his last which ended in 1918, Meyer collected some 2,500 plant specimens from Europe and Asia, including persimmons, apricots, lemons, peaches, grapes, cabbage, and bamboos. While on plant expeditions in Asia from 1910 to 1911, Meyer took photographs of expedition activities. The original glass negatives, part of the Collection of Expedition Photographs from the Office of Plant Exploration, are cracked and in need of repair.

  • The Palemon Howard Dorsett Photograph Collection of the Dorsett-Morse Oriental Agricultural Exploration Expedition
    This collection consists of seven volumes of photograph albums of the Dorsett-Morse Oriental Agricultural Exploration Expedition, 1929-1931. The photographs depict plant varieties and uses, landscapes, and Asian cultural practices. Each photograph contains a number and handwritten caption. While the photographs themselves are in good condition, the paper and album covers are highly acidic, which can lead to discoloration or embrittlement of the materials. The album covers are deteriorating.


Pomona italiana, ossia trattato degli alberi fruttiferi. by Giorgio Gallesio. 1772-1839.

The first two volumes of this four volume set about fruit bearing trees contain only text while the second two volumes contain plates of images. This set has been identified for conservation because the spines are deteriorating and the bindings have lost their leather coverings. Also, the pages are separating from the bindings and are showing characteristics of foxing, which occurs when brown mold grows and stains the paper.


George Cooke Diary

George Cooke (1791-1849) was an antebellum planter in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, during the early part of the 19th century. The George Cooke Diary is a handwritten two volume account of the farm operations at Hazelwood Plantation, near Patuxent, Maryland. The diary spans from 1826-1949. Cooke's account is considered to be one of the most complete in existence of farm life in Maryland during his era. The leather bindings are deteriorating. The pages are separating from the binding and becoming brittle.