Sheepskin scroll inscribed with the Book of Esther. Photo by Joel Draut.
Sheepskin scroll inscribed with the Book of Esther. Photo by Joel Draut.

Annette Finnigan, Annette Finnigan Collection SC 0013.
Annette Finnigan, Annette Finnigan Collection SC 0013.

Special Collections

Warren A. Culbertson Adult Special Collections

The Warren A. Culbertson Adult Special Collections selects, preserves, curates exhibits of, provides reference assistance for, and promotes rare and unique materials in many forms. These particular materials are best managed separately from the general collections due to their subject matter, rarity, source, physical condition, or value. The Culbertson Adult Special Collections materials originate from historic donations and are named in honor of Warren A. Culbertson whose estate made a generous donation to HMRC. Included are items relating to the social, political, intellectual, and economic aspects of local, state, and regional history, as well as works of unique content that enhance the visibility of the Library's treasures by their potential for exhibits and outreach.

There are several small collections of books in the Culbertson Adult Special Collections, including a well-rounded Mark Twain collection, reference works on rare and fine press books, and a selection of illustrated books from around the world. Of special note is the Finnigan Collection, containing exquisite and rare items from the history of the written word, including Arabic manuscripts, early Aldine Press materials, and a 15th century Book of Hours from Flanders.

The largest discrete component of Culbertson Adult Special Collections is the Circle M Library, donated by Major John Ephraim Thomas Milsaps. Grandson of an Alamo fighter, a leading light in the Salvation Army, and an inveterate bibliophile, Milsaps amassed books during his lifelong travels around the world. In 1903, he placed his collection of books and curios in the Houston Public Library. The Circle M Library, or the Milsaps Collection, was formed. He continued developing this collection through the years with materials from locations where he served, including London and France, where he was stationed during World War I. The collection includes approximately 12,000 books and 3,000 pamphlets. Special fields of interest include slavery, the Civil War, the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and the subsequent insurrection, and world religions. There is also the most complete run in existence of the War Cry, the Salvation Army newspaper that Milsaps edited. In addition to his books, Milsaps also donated 74 volumes of his diaries, a hand-illustrated, highly entertaining window into the life of this important Houstonian.

Norma Meldrum Juvenile Special Collections

The Norma Meldrum Juvenile Special Collections began as an active children’s library in the early 1900s, funded by a donation in honor of Norma Meldrum, who died of scarlet fever at eight years old. What were new publications, eagerly handled by Houston's children in 1910, have since become valuable American juvenilia. The same copies of Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger books that inspired young people of a century ago to be wholesome and industrious can be seen today, along with the frightening story of Struwwelpeter, Andrew Lang's color Fairy books, histories of a much younger United States, and non-fiction books with publication dates from the 1870s to the 1970s. This collection also includes an exceptionally fine selection of books illustrated by Kate Greenaway, Bertha L. Corbett, Arthur Rackham, N. C. Wyeth, and Jessie Wilcox Smith.

The Norma Meldrum Room, which houses the majority of the Norma Meldrum Juvenile Special Collections, is closed to the public; the collection is accessible through the Texas Room. If you are interested in hosting an event in this room or other spaces in the Julia Ideson Building, call 832-393-1646 or email hpl.specialevents@houstontx.gov for more information.

©2009 Houston Public Library - SPECIAL COLLECTIONS