Many of the rare books housed in the Rare Book Room of the Corning Library were assembled between 1940 and 1975 by Warren H. Corning, a Cleveland philanthropist and investment banker, who was a long-time trustee and the first unpaid executive administrator of The Holden Arboretum. This portion of Holden's holdings is known as the Warren H. Corning Collection of Horticultural Classics. A smaller portion of the Corning Collection of Horticultural Classics was given to the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, now the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and other works of botanical art were donated by Corning to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Holden's Rare Book room also houses some non-Corning items including materials that have been transferred in due to their age, fragility, rarity, or associational or monetary value. Among these materials is a small Founder's Collection, which consists of books owned and signed by Albert Fairchild Holden, the founder of The Holden Arboretum, or his father Liberty Holden. The Rare Book Room also houses the rare book collection of The Herb Society of America, which is on deposit for the greater security and climate control available in this facility.
In general, the rare book and art collection is officially available to the public upon presentation of proper identification and evidence of scholarly need Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3:30pm and Fridays from 10am to 2:30 pm. Other times can be arranged by appointment.
Users are expected to have clean hands and use care in handling the materials. Only pencils or electronic devices may be used for taking notes. The consumption of food or beverages is not permitted in the Rare Book Room.
Exhibits highlighting various aspects of the collection appear on the display stands at the front of the rare book room. Other exhibits are occasionally staged for special events or specialized groups on the tables and counters within the rare book room.
The rare book collection contains 730 odd titles comprising almost 1,800 volumes. It consists mainly of herbals, florilegia, local and regional floras, works on botanical classification, bibliographies, synonymies, economic botanies, accounts of explorations, natural history books, gardening and botanical dictionaries, botanical works, gardening manuals and calendars, works on landscape architecture, works on specific groups of plants, agricultural works, a substantial Linnaean collection, and horticultural and botanical journals.
It also contains works of great rarity, including the only known copy of David Martin's prospectus forThe British Flora (), one of 25 copies published of the second edition of Aylmer Bourke Lambert's A Description of the Genus Pinus (1828- ), one of 40 copies of the second issue of John Sibthorp's Flora Graeca (1845), and one of the five copies known of the only fascicle issued of the quarto version of A. M. F. J. Palisot de Beauvois' Flore d'Oware et de Benin (1803). By date, the works range from the Herbarium of Apuleius of 1483, the first printed herbal published with illustrations, to fine limited editions published in the 1970s.
Other highlights of the collection include a complete run of Curtis's Botanical Magazine from 1787 to the present; one of about a dozen copies of Leonhart Fuchs' De Historia Stirpium Comentarii Insignes (1542), known to have been specially colored for sale by the publisher; and one of the 12 to 18 copies printed of Nicolaus Jacquin's Selectarum Stirpium Americanarum Historia (c. 1780), which features handpainted watercolors instead of plates.
The collection also holds a limited number of manuscripts, including a rare "red book'' by Humphry Repton, and more than 3,700 original drawings and paintings – most of which are in bound volumes. The artists represented include Claude Aubriet, George Dionysius Ehret, Pierre Joseph Redouté, Pancrace Bessa, Tecophile Colla, Henrietta Johanna Marius, Mitsunari Tosa, Pierre Jean François Turpin, Jean Christoph Heyland, Ignaz Strenzel, Johann Baptiste Drechsler, Franz Reinelli, Johann Buchberger, Johann Schmidt and Stephanie Félicité Ducrest Genlis.
Further information – including detailed bibliographic descriptions of the pre-1830 botanical and horticultural imprints at The Holden Arboretum, the Allen Memorial Medical Library of the Cleveland Medical Library Association and the Cleveland Botanical Garden can be found in Stanley H. Johnston, Jr.'s The Cleveland Herbal, Botanical and Horticultural Collections: A Descriptive Bibliography of Pre-1830 Works from the Libraries of the Holden Arboretum, the Cleveland Medical Library Association, and the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland (Kent, Ohio and London: Kent State University Press, 1992).
More recently, a heavily illustrated book giving historical accounts of herbals and medical botanical works, botanical and scientific works, botanical illustration, and gardening and landscape architecture based on the works described in the previous volume was published as Stanley H. Johnston, Jr.'s Cleveland's Treasures from the World of Botanical Literature (Wilmington, OH: Orange Frazer Press, 1998). Both books are available from most of the online booksellers and from their respective publishers.
For more information about how to search Holden's online Warren H. Corning Library catalog.