Featured Collection

Special Collections and Archives has, with the support of donor funds, recently added to its collection of rare works in natural history: a 1658 edition of Edward Topsell and Conrad Gessner’s The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents .


Title page of the History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents     Illustration of a unicorn

This richly illustrated work represents the first scientific book in English solely dedicated to the fauna of the world. The bestiary describes both real and fantastic creatures, illustrated in detailed woodcuts, and contains some of the earliest descriptions of the fauna of the Americas.


Scan of spread pages, including illustrations of an armadillo and a tiger

As with most early scientific works on flora and fauna, some of the descriptions and images are charmingly inaccurate. Some of the more unusual ideas about familiar animals Topsell shares are that weasels mate by their ears and give birth through their mouths, that touching an elephant’s trunk will cure headaches, and that a cat is “much delighted to play with her image in a glass”.



Scan of two-page spread, featuring illustrations of sea serpents

The volume also includes a first printing of The Theater of Insects by Thomas Moffet.


Title page of The Theater of Insects      Illustrations of cicadas

Questions? Contact us at archives@auburn.edu or 334-844-1732.

Last updated: 04/24/2024