History of the Collections
The garden rare book collection comprises books, manuscripts, photographs, prints, and drawings connected to all aspects of the fields of garden and landscape history, such as botanical illustration, herbals, floras, and architectural treatises. The core collection was formed by Mrs. Mildred Bliss in the 1950s with advice from Beatrix Farrand, designer of the Dumbarton Oaks gardens, to function as a resource for the studies in landscape architecture program. There are over 6,000 items in the collection including the Bliss/Farrand correspondence directly related to the design of the gardens; music manuscripts that include Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks Concerto; fine bindings; original watercolors by Redouté; and a small, late-sixteenth-century illuminated manuscript of flowers and butterflies by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues. During the past decades the garden rare book collection has expanded through both purchases and gifts.
The Byzantine rare book collection includes black-and-white and full-color facsimiles of Byzantine manuscripts, beautifully illustrated studies of Byzantine art and architecture, travelers' accounts, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liturgical books published in Greek and Karamanlidika, and early printed books that contain editio princeps or historically important studies of Byzantine texts. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss donated many of the books from their personal library. Other items bear the personal bookplates of scholars such as Hayford Peirce. The Library continues to collect early books and modern facsimiles as they become available.
The Pre-Columbian rare book collection includes facsimiles of Pre-Hispanic and early colonial pictorial codices, colonial-era dictionaries and grammars of indigenous languages of the Americas, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travel accounts pertaining to Latin America. The collection was initiated by Robert Woods Bliss in the middle of the twentieth century to complement his growing collection of Pre-Columbian art. The collection continues to grow with the addition of older materials as they become available and new facsimile editions as they are published.