Scientist of the Day - John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, was born July 11, 1767. Adams was a staunch advocate for national scientific institutions, being directly responsible for the founding of the U.S. Naval Observatory while he was in office (his presidential term was 1825-29), and then for restoring funding for the Smithsonian Institution while he served as a Congressman in the House of Representatives in the 1830s (yes, he was first President, then Congressman, not the usual order of things in Washington).
But our Library has a more direct connection to John Quincy Adams. In 1803, Adams gifted a copy of a sumptuous illustrated book on butterflies, Papillons d'Europe, by J.J. Ernst and J.L.F. Engramelle, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. When we acquired the Library of the Academy in 1946, Adams’ bequest came along with it. This is a wonderful work, issued by subscription over the course of 13 years, and then bound up with the text in 8 slim volumes and all of the plates in one fat quarto volume (the engraved title page of the plate volume is shown above, first image). Each of the nine volumes has a bookplate commemorating the gift by Adams (second image), and in each volume, on the first free endpaper, there is a signed inscription in Adams' own hand (third image). It is not known how Adams acquired the set, since neither he nor his father were listed on the subscription list, which was included in volume two.
Even without the J.Q. Adams provenance, the Papillons d' Europe would be a special work, with the many figures of butterflies and moths engraved and then beautifully hand-colored. We show above several of the hundreds of plates, depicting red admirals (fourth image) and some sphinx moths (fifth image). Three uncolored plates even show the equipment and catching techniques needed to be a lepidopterist, including one demonstrating the use of a unique scissors-style collecting net (sixth image).
The portrait of Adams is a photograph of 1843, the very first of a sitting or former U.S. president. It is in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.