The Minneapolis Athenaeum is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to acquiring and preserving books and manuscripts and making them available to the public. The Athenaeum shares space with Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library.
Highlights of the collection include an original hand-colored edition of Audubon's Birds of America, a collection of 152 editions of Aesop's Fables spanning 300 years, and many important early books with descriptions and photographs of Native American peoples of North America. The collection is used by everyone from students working on History Day projects to a decoy carver researching waterfowl illustrations.
The Athenaeum was originally organized by Minneapolis businessmen in 1859 as a private subscription library. It became a partner of the Minneapolis Public Library when it was established in 1885. The partners signed a 99-year contract to share resources, which was extended in 1985. In November 2011, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution recommitting to the relationship (after the merger of the Minneapolis Public and Hennepin County library systems) with a no-rent lease of space to the Athenaeum in the Minneapolis Central Library.
The Spencer Natural History Collection is notable for the many hand-colored plates which accompany early printed descriptions of the world’s birds, plants, and insects. The bulk of the collection dates from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.
The Early American Exploration and Travel Collection includes narratives and maps from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.
The Heffelfinger Aesop’s Fables Collection is comprised primarily of 152 editions of Aesop’s Fables in numerous languages that date from the sixteenth century to the present.
The History of Books and Printing Collection includes books on bookmaking, typography, printing, and fine binding.
The North American Indians Collection contains many of the important early books that describe and illustrate the native peoples of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Highlights include first editions of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, George Catlin, and Edward S. Curtis.