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The First Garden Library Accession Number: “Maison rustique, or The Countrie Farme”

Posted On June 15, 2017 | 13:17 pm | by Dumbarton Oaks Archives | Permalink

Published in London in 1600, Mildred Bliss’s English-language edition of Maison rustique, or The Countrie Farme was 348 years old when, in 1948, it became the first book to be registered with an accession number in the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks. The work was written in Latin by Charles Estienne (1504–1564), expanded and translated into French by his son-in-law Jean Liébault (1535–1596), and then translated into English by Richard Surflet (fl. 1600–1660). Its contents comprise “whatsoever can be required for the building, or good ordering, of a Husbandmans House, or Countrey Farme,” including the skills necessary “to foresee the changes and alterations of Times; to know the motions, and powers, of the Sunne and Moone; to cure the fickle laboring Man; to cure Beasts and Flying Fowles of all sorts” and to “dresse, plant, or make Gardens.”

Emphasizing functionality over aesthetics, Maison rustique served as the definitive text on the care of country houses for many years, until its popularity was eclipsed by Olivier de Serres’ Théâtre d’agriculture in 1600, the same year that Mildred Bliss’s English language first edition was published.

Though by no means the most rare or valuable volume in the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks, the impressive age of the work and its fine condition after centuries of handling no doubt did much to inspire Mildred Bliss and the original library staff who selected it to give the book the first number in the cataloguing of the rare works. As an instructional reference work on horticulture, it was a fitting start to the collection, which Mildred foresaw as a combination of “contemporary gardening guides and exceptional volumes on plants.”

In the nearly seventy years since Maison rustique officially became the first volume in the Rare Book Collection, over twenty-eight thousand secondary works on gardening and over ten thousand books, prints, manuscripts, photographs, and drawings in the Rare Book Collection have been accessioned in the Garden Library.

Evelyn Hofer, Mildred Bliss in Her Garden Library, 1965
Evelyn Hofer, Mildred Bliss in Her Garden Library, 1965