Sample sections of the Iconographic Encylopaedia were well-received. An early review in the New York Daily Tribune declared it would “prove a contribution of great value and importance to the interests of knowledge in this country”. According to a brief article in Scientific American, the encyclopedia would be available to subscribers at a rate of $1 per month for about 25 months. With the cost of binding, the total set was estimated to cost $26-30 dollars. That’s roughly $1,000 in today’s currency (or the cost of a nice laptop, based on various inflation calculators).
The publication fell right in line with Baird’s philosophy for museums and ultimately the Smithsonian. The Institution was in its infancy at the time, with regular debates about where to focus its efforts. Joseph Henry believed the Institution should prioritize research and international exchanges. Others, including Baird, believed the Institution should be a force for the democratization of information through museums and public education. Baird would have a long and successful career at the Smithsonian, realizing some of his plans and earning the title of its second Secretary in 1878.
The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives has two complete sets of the first edition of Icononographic Encyclopaedia. The set in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History belonged to Baird himself. The set in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library, gift of the Hewitt sisters, has been digitized and is available in our Digital Library, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Internet Archive.
We love how our digitized collections find renewed life on screens around the world and thanks to a recent project by Nicholas Rougeux, Iconographic Encyclopaedia is now even more accessible. Using our images from the Internet Archive, Rougeux has transformed the static pages of a 19th-century book into an interactive resource. Users can browse across all four volumes by topic and manipulate the plates to highlight individual figures.
Just as Baird improved upon Heck’s work with indexes and tables of contents, Rougeux has made the content even easier to navigate for the 21st-century reader. We look forward to seeing how information from this iconic publication continues to transform in the future.
Heck, Johan George, Bilder-Atlas zum Conversations-Lexicon, Leipzig, 1849-1851.
Heck, Johan George, Iconographic Encyclopaedia of Science, Literature, and ArtIconographic Encyclopaedia of Science, Literature, and Art ..translated from the German, with additions, and edited by Spencer F. Baird. New York, 1851-1852.
Ferguson, Eugene S. “Contributions to Bibliography in the History of Technology” (Part II), Technology and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring, 1962), pp. 167-174.
“Iconographic Encyclopeedia of Science, Literature and Art“. Scientific American (0036-8733), 5. (number 15.), p. 117.
“Spencer Fullerton Baird, 1823-1887”, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Spencer Fullerton Baird Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7002.