Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2016 Issue

A Private Library in Ulster County: the year 1810

F287dd7b-7cc1-4ef5-9635-54c388b0377f

Recently I purchased a 160-page manuscript account of the founding of a private library in Ulster County in December 1810:  The Pleasant Valley Library Society.

 

The account begins with:

 

A List of the Proprietors Names belonging to the Pleasant Valley Library Society

 

followed by what at first blush seem to be the records of a library in nearby Dutchess County but turn out to be an effort to establish a library in Ulster County at Plattekill.   The articles of incorporation confirm:

 

“We the subscribers being sensible of the advantages that will accrue from a public library, do for this purpose agree to form ourselves into a society which shall be known by the name of the Pleasant Valley Library in the Town of Plattekill, County of Ulster, . . .”

 

The bylaws, over the next nine pages, then stipulate how the society will be run and also provide that non-members may borrow books although at somewhat higher rates than the proprietors would be charged.  This seems clearly to be an effort at creating a public library through private funding. 

 

The library appears to have been capitalized at one hundred dollars.  Individual shares were $5.00 and membership transferrable. 

 

It’s an interesting history that emerges, these records reflecting twelve years of experience – from the original thinking about the establishment of the library, then followed by the experience of the library, in particular the individual borrowing accounts of members.  A complete list of the 179 titles available completes the written records – providing an opportunity to see the books on hand by categories such as English philosophy, American history, travel, and poetry.  The records run to 1823.

 

The separate member accounts provide a sense of economic life and individual education attainment in the early 19th century.  In southern Ulster county books were scarce and this lending library created to facilitate the efficient sharing of books.  The Library Society was small but the underlying spirit strong. 

 

Elsewhere private libraries were providing thousand of books and some, to facilitate their use, published accounts of all titles owned.  This Friends Society never achieved any substantial scale and probably never published any records so this account book may be all that will be known about this fledgling enterprise.  Even, whether the Society continued beyond the last entries of 1823 is unclear and no mention of this library or any other private library in Ulster County is found in local histories published later in the century.

 

Interestingly, recurrent issues for borrowers are damage and assessments.  Homes of the periods were mainly made of wood and fires too common.  So books were occasionally damaged and assessments for repair or replacement carefully recorded.  Because the Society kept records of each book’s cost such penalties were easy to determine if not collect.

 

The cost of the Association’s books is given in the records and they averaged about $1.50 each.  Whether new or used is not mentioned, neither are the sources.  And no actual copies have been located, neither are there any plans in the organizing plan for Society volumes to be identified in any way.  They may have been but I can’t tell.

 

Libraries in the United States as we know them today emerged in the latter half of the 19th century as America was striving to achieve universal literacy and local governments were raising taxes and organizing school districts to educate their citizens.  As this occurred private library associations were subsumed into what would became the American public library movement.  This is probably the fate of this early, earnest enterprise.

 

In an online article on the DPLA [Digital Public Library of America] website there is this bit of history:

 

“With the rise of non-religious texts and literacy rates in the 1700s, private book clubs among wealthy men evolved into subscription libraries. Subscription, or membership, libraries were funded by membership fees or donations, with collections accessible only to paying members.”

 

“Today there are fewer than twenty membership libraries in existence in the US—many of which focus on special collections or rare material, rather than a varied book selection . . . “

 

So, the Pleasant Valley Library Association, organized in 1811, seems to have been a local manifestation of this trend to make books available. 

 

This association would not survive and no other references to it have been found.  However, a search of the Rare Book Hub Transaction Database for “library Society” finds 88 records pertaining to other library societies, mostly to printed catalogues of their holdings.

 

In their time such associations were active and I expect important.  They were only a stage, however, apparently caterpillars to what would become in time the butterflies that libraries are today.

 

As a collecting area the records of such libraries would seem to be a fabulous pursuit. 


Posted On: 2016-09-07 18:26
User Name: svanson2

Excellent article and description of this important find!


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions