Guide to the Research Collections



 A Guide to the Reference Collections of The New York Public Library (1941) included a section entitled "General Collections," in which were noted certain large groups of material, divided into two categories: "Segregated Collections" and "Collections Not Segregated." In this revision of the Guide the segregated collections (the Berg Collection, the Spencer Collection, and the Stuart Collection now under the administration of the Rare Book Division) receive separate treatment. The collections not segregated, that is, the large general collections which have not been kept together as units, but have instead been absorbed into the various divisions of the Research Libraries, are described below.


In 1872, Felix Astoin presented his important collection to the Lenox Library; it was received by the library after his death in 1884. In the donor's words, the collection was built up "during a long residence in this city, embracing about 5,000 volumes, all bound and in an excellent state of preservation, of French books, including the best encyclopedias, works of art, and on history, classics, etc., and probably the most complete collection that can be found in this country."1 Later encyclopedias, bibliographies, etc., have in many instances supplanted those of Astoin's day, but the library is still enriched by having many significant titles pertaining to the historical aspects of learning.

Astoin had little interest in rare books as such. For the 1840-70 period the collection has extensive examples of French imaginative literature; it also added to the library's collection of classical literature in French translations, and few examples, apparently, were overlooked. This is particularly important as translations, except standard translations into English, are not usually purchased by the library.

A checklist of the Astoin collection appeared as number 7 of the Lenox Library's Short-title Lists (1887).


The library of George Bancroft, the American historian, consisting of 11,606 books, 4,648 pamphlets, and 486 volumes of manuscript, was purchased by the Lenox Library in 1894, primarily for its materials on American history, although general literary works were included. The rare items in the collection are found in the historical group; the remainder were characterized as the "works one would expect to find in the library of a man of such a wide experience in affairs as Bancroft."2 This portion includes 2,000 volumes relating to history and literature, 1,500 volumes of German literature and philosophy, 1,000 volumes of French and Italian literature, 500 volumes of Greek and Roman literature, and a large number of miscellaneous works.


In 1878 the Lenox Library announced the gift of the Evert Augustus Duyckinck collection of 15,164 books and 1,596 pamphlets, together with the Duyckinck papers: it was the accumulation of a Dutch father and two sons--all bookmen,

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all New Yorkers--and is of real significance in showing the tastes and interests of the city in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The collection contains relatively few titles now considered real rarities, although most of the classical authors are represented, some in early imprints; the 76 editions of Horace, for example, include 1 from the fifteenth century, 4 from the sixteenth, 7 from the seventeenth, and 27 from the eighteenth. In the main, however, the collection remains highly interesting for the number and variety of contemporary English and American editions and for its fine books, illustrated by such artists as Bewick, Cruikshank, and others of the period; there is also an excellent representation of eighteenth-century French works.

"Literature," as far as English and American titles are concerned, must be construed in its broadest sense, including not only imaginative literature, but also biography, travel, and similar materials. Among imaginative works are representations of Shakespeare and older authors in good editions. Most of the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century authors are present in first or early editions. An interesting feature is American imprints of English authors. American writers generally appear in first editions. There are excellent files of American literary periodicals through the first half of the nineteenth century.

Most of the Duyckinck papers are those of Evert A. Duyckinck, accumulated in connection with his editorship of Arcturus, the Literary World, and the Cyclopedia of American Literature (1804-55), but also included are letters to his brother, George Long Duyckinck, from nearly every American man of letters during the period. In addition to other series, there is a mass of private and personal letters, bills, business papers, and account books. Selections from the papers have been printed occasionally in the Bulletin; these may be found through the published Index.

Check lists of the printed materials in the Duyckinck Collection appear as numbers 8 and 12 of the Lenox Library's Short-title Lists, printed in 1887 and 1890.


In 1899, Worthington Chauncey Ford and Paul Leicester Ford offered the library their collection of printed books as a memorial to their father, Gordon Lester Ford. The gift, estimated at more than 30,000 books, 70,000 pamphlets, and a large number of maps and prints, came partly as a result of the purchase by J. Pierpont Morgan of the Ford collection of manuscripts, from which he made his selection turning the remainder over to the library.

The principal feature of the Ford collection is American political, constitutional, and economic history in the broadest sense, but with additional notable materials in the fields of finance, taxation, and economics of England and the continent. Gordon Lester Ford collected everything. His selection of books was remarkable; he ranked with Tefft, Cist, and Sprague as an early collector of autographs and historical manuscripts; and his association with Whitelaw Reid taught him "that frequently the trivial, ephemeral pamphlet of today is the important historical document of tomorrow."3 His sons' enthusiasm continued and they expanded the collection, following their own interests as bibliographers and editors, as well as historians.

While American history and economics are undoubtedly the major features of the collection, hardly a field or topic is not represented. Throughout the library's holdings--in biography, travel, philosophy, philology, literature, religion, even law and medicine--titles from the Ford collection are to be found.

Paul and Worthington Ford and their sister, Mrs. Emily Ellsworth Ford Skeel, added hundreds of volumes to supplement the original gift.


In addition to the funds which constitute the third of the original foundations of the library, Samuel Jones Tilden bequeathed this institution some 15,000 volumes (not including his law library, which went elsewhere). The books have been described as a "collection made for his own use and enjoyment ... the usual classics one expects to find in a 'gentleman's library' ... shelving little rubbish."4

Included among general materials are bound files of New York City newspapers covering the period from the 1840s through 1886, and runs of economic periodicals for about the same period.

Most of the social sciences are represented, the more important material being in the fields of history and economics. Among rarities in this group is a collection of 225 scarce tracts relating to banking and currency in England, printed from 1683 to 1850. History is for the most part American, ranging from Hakluyt's Voyages (1599-1660) and the accounts of other discoverers, to Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio. A strong feature is political history; present are the chief publications relating to the various administrations and political parties of the United States; to Congress and congressional affairs; and to political and constitutional conventions, especially those of New York State.

Literature comprises the richest portion of the collection. Included are the first 3 editions of Milton's Paradise Lost (1667-78) and the first 3 Shakespeare folios. The portion relating to art, archaeology, and natural history includes the finely illustrated editions popular from the latter part of the eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth. Also included are a number of the now famous "Galleries," relating to art and archaeology (as well as the magnificent publications of individual authors), and the folio Audubon Birds, which is typical of the natural history publications.

A number of extra-illustrated works are present, including Sir Walter Scott's Waverley Novels and such histories and biographies as lent themselves well to this treatment. In addition, unusual collections of portraits, including the works of Birch, Lodge, Caulfield, and others, are represented. The extraordinary collection found in this group is that of Gillray's caricatures dated from 1777 to 1811, representing the entire period of that artist's productivity.

Finally, Tilden's papers were included with the original gift.

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