Spotlight on Special Libraries
The National Sporting Library and Museum
For a few brief minutes each May, the nation’s attention turns to the Kentucky Derby — a premier event in the old sport of thoroughbred racing. In 2011, Derby winner Animal Kingdom’s dirt-filled shoes joined rare books and 19th century prints as part of “In the Blacksmith Shop,” an exhibit at the National Sporting Library and Museum (NSLM) in equestrian-minded Middleburg, Virginia. This combination of rare books and art with popular culture is no coincidence. While primarily a research center and steward of rare books and art, the NSLM also strives to share its treasures with the public.
Founded in 1954 as the National Sporting Library, the institution is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the literature, art, and culture of equestrian and field sports (hunting and fishing). Through the generosity of donors, holdings have expanded to include over 17,000 books and works of art.
The National Sporting Library and Museum, Middleburg, Virginia. The Library is on the left and the Museum is on the right. Courtesy of the National Sporting Library and Museum.
Books and manuscripts
- The Library’s volumes on horse and field sports date from 1523 to the present. Its collections comprise many areas of equestrian sports, including works on thoroughbred racing, foxhunting, steeplechasing, show jumping, eventing, polo, dressage, horse-drawn transportation, and general horsemanship. Works include treatises on veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, farriery, and training of horses and sporting dogs. The horse in war is also represented, including early modern cavalry manuals and books on equine service in combat during the American Civil War and World War I. Also represented are the non-equestrian, traditionally- British sports of fly fishing, shooting, and fowling. Other topics include falconry, foxhounds and other sporting dogs, beagling, game management, and wildlife.
- The F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room collections consist of 4,000 books, manuscripts, print portfolios, and historical sporting periodicals.
- The John H. and Martha Daniels Collection includes an autographed manuscript on foxhunting by Theodore Roosevelt; the 1781 first edition and later editions of Peter Beckford’s Thoughts on Hunting, the first book devoted to foxhunting; ninety editions of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, including the 1653 first edition; angling treatises with mounted artificial flies such as F.M. Halford’s Dry Fly Entomology; original drawings and hand-colored plates by British sporting artist Henry Alken; and books with fore-edge paintings.
- The V.S. Littauer Collection was donated by the family of Vladimir Littauer, a former Russian cavalry officer. Littauer promoted forward riding in the United States and wrote a history of horsemanship, Horseman’s Progress: The Development of Modern Riding, using the rare texts in his collection from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries.
- The Hünersdorf Collection, donated by the Ohrstrom Foundation, belonged to the German riding master Ludwig von Hünersdorf and covers early equitation theory and horse care. Copies of Methode et Invention Nouvelle de Dresser les Chevaux (1657) by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, and Ecole de Cavalerie (1733) by François Robichon de la Guérinière are highlights.
NSLM's 1st edition of Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, London: T.Maxey for R. Marriot, 1653. Rebound by Riviere & Sons. Courtesy of the National Sporting Library and Museum.
- The Huth-Lonsdale-Arundel Collection, donated by the Russell Arundel family, was originally formed by Frederick Henry Huth, author of A Bibliographical Record of Hippology (1887). It includes a 1550 first edition of Federico Grisone’s Gli Ordini di Cavalcare, the first text on manege riding (the precursor of dressage).
- The Woolums Collection consists of 3,000 stud books, periodicals and reference works from 38 countries on thoroughbred racing and breeding. This collection is accessible in open stacks.
- The Library is strong in fiction, with works by Will James, R.S. Surtees, Irish writers Edith Somerville, Martin Ross and others. In addition, it houses the papers of Harry Worcester Smith, sportsman, author, and Masters of Foxhounds Association founder. There is a collection of early American sporting periodicals, including The Spirit of the Times, and The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine.
The John H. Daniels Fellowship supports the work of visiting scholars from all over the world and has been awarded annually since 2007. Funded fellowship topics have included stable design in 19th-century America, Irish sporting novelists Edith Somerville and Martin Ross, conservation and ethics in American fly fishing, and Early Modern horsemanship manuals. University faculty, graduate students, museum curators, librarians, writers, and journalists are encouraged to apply.
The Library holds an annual duplicate book sale to raise funds for acquisitions, and also sponsors a book fair during the Annual Hunt. During its Country Stable Tour weekend, the institution features exhibits in the Forrest E. Mars, Sr. gallery and hosts lectures, symposia, and special events such as a polo match and an historic coaching weekend. The institution has also published the first and second editions of F. Turner Reuter’s Animal and Sporting Artists in America (2008, 2011), an 880-page compendium.
In 2009, the National Sporting Library began the renovation and expansion of an 1804 building on its seven-acre campus to create a sporting art museum which opened in October 2011. The institution’s name was expanded, as well, to the National Sporting Library and Museum.
The Library’s online catalog of books, periodicals and general information may be found at www.nsl.org.
— National Sporting Library and Museum staff VL