Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Interesting find

From a bookplate pasted onto the front inside cover of volume 3 of Travels through the United States of North America, the country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, in the years 1795, 1796, and 1797; by the Duke de La Rochefoucault Liancourt (London, R. Phillips, 1800):

Rules of the Boston Library Society.

Not more than one folio, two quartos, or three of smaller size, shall be taken out at the same time; and for each set that is not returned in five weeks, a fine at the rate of three shillings per set, for each week, as long as it is detained.

If any book or books are abused or lost, the same to be replaced by a similar volume or volumes, or the current price for the same to be paid. The delinquent, in such case, will have his privilege suspended till this rule is complied with.

The Library to be open every Thursday and Saturday in the afternoon, from 3 to 5 in Winter, and from 3 to 6 in Summer.

If a subscriber lends a book, his privilege shall be suspended one year.

That one dollar be paid by each subscriber at the annual meeting in March, or when he first takes any book from the Library after the March meeting in every year; and the Librarian, in no case, deliver any Book to any person a second time, without the said assessment's being paid.

That all Books be returned to the Library on or before the 15th of February, in order for inspection by the annual Committee; -- and that delinquents be subject to a fine of one dollar for each set not to be returned.

A number of very valuable books are deposited, which may be examined without being removed from the Library-Room.

Having never heard of this Boston Library Society, I did a Google Search and found the following historical blurb in a finding aid of the Society's archives currently residing at the Boston Athenaeum:

The Boston Library Society (1792-1939) was the earliest proprietary library in the Boston area. It provided residents of Boston with access to the works of American authors, as well as to the classics and to European literature. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Boston Library Society began to lose its proprietors and subscribers to the Boston Public Library. The reduction in its membership made it difficult for the Society to expand its collection and maintain its library. In 1939 the proprietors were forced to close the doors of the Boston Library Society and agreed to operate under the auspices of the Boston Athenaeum. The Boston Library Society Archives consist of records, preserved by the Society and acquired by the Boston Athenaeum, that document the activity of nearly every division of library operations. They occupy a storage space of about thirty linear feet.

Very cool! Two observations about the aforementioned rules:

1. The provision against lending a library volume to a third party is interesting. So I guess file-sharing has always been frowned upon...

2. I particularly like the use of the term 'delinquent' to denote library patrons with overdue or missing materials. Can we bring that back perhaps?

But back to the book itself -- it's a thing of beauty! Each volume of the set includes fold-out maps of North America circa 1800 which are treasures in and of themselves. How amazing that I get to peek at these items for the first time before anyone else in the library, and often for the first time in decades. I wonder how these books came to be in Widener's collection? A search through the Boston Athenaeum's catalog shows that they have a copy of the 2-volume first edition (printed in 1799) in its Rare Book Room, so perhaps when the Athenaeum inherited the Boston Library Society's collection they didn't feel that they needed the 2nd edition as well.

Who knows? Perhaps the Athenaeum never owned this book at all, but it found its way from the BLS collection to Harvard by another route entirely. Perhaps some 'delinquent' borrowed it, never returned it, and later donated to the Widener Library long after the Boston Library Society had ceased to exist. That's a lot of speculation from a bookplate, and I'm sure someone here at Harvard is in a much better position to answer this question than I am, but it's an interesting way to pass the time this morning nonetheless...

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