John Adams Library - Boston Public Library

 CoD 9 John Adams Library Scope: The John Adams Library includes nearly 3,000 volumes collected by the second President of the United States, John Adams, during his lifetime (1735-­‐1826), as well as hundreds of additional volumes donated by friends and family members during the 19th century (some owned by Adams during his lifetime, others printed and added posthumously). In addition, the Boston Public Library purchased at auction nearly 20 volumes previously owned and annotated by Adams. The complete collection of printed books and pamphlets now totals more than 1,900 titles and 3,500 volumes. Publication dates of the collection range from 1514 through the late 19th century, with the large majority of volumes printed in Europe or North America between 1700-­‐1825. Holdings span the fields of classics, literature, history, politics, government, philosophy, religion, law, science, mathematics, medicine, agriculture, language and linguistics, economics, and travel. Criteria: 1. Uniqueness, rarity, and value: John Adams took enormous pride in his extensive library, and his lifelong passion for books and reading spanned his varied roles as university student, Boston lawyer, revolutionary, Founding Father, European diplomat, and President and citizen of the early American Republic. What makes the collection exceptional is Adams’ scrupulous recording of thousands of interpretive and critical comments in handwritten notes throughout the margins of hundreds of his books. Not only are the volumes extensively annotated in Adams’ own hand, but they are also often the repository of other personal objects, such as letters, bills of sale, and the autumnal pressed leaves of familiar New England trees. Many volumes in the collection are extremely rare, including a number of important first editions and heavily annotated works. Most importantly, their close connection with Adams, his family, and his extraordinary life story make the collection truly unique. Highlights include: • Ambrogio Leone, De Nola Opsculum, 1514: Nearly 500 years old, this first edition is the earliest printed book in the collection and represents one of the earliest printed books dedicated to the subject of archaeology. The engravings in this historic volume of Renaissance archaeology are among the first known archaeological plans of an Italian city other than Rome to appear in print. Adams owned more than 40 books printed before 1600, nearly all of them rarities in the United States at the time. • Marcus Tullius Cicero, M. Tullii Ciceronis Orationum Selectarum Liber, 1734: John Adams’s first known acquisition is this small copy of Cicero’s Orations filled with blots, pen trials, and swaggeringly grandiose signatures. The book’s battered cover shows significant wear from being jammed into 14-­‐year-­‐old Adams’ pocket as he walked the Massachusetts countryside. Adams acquired and hand-­‐dated the book in 1749 while preparing for Harvard. • Constitutions des Treize Etats-­‐Unis de l'Amerique, 1783: Published in Philadelphia, this volume is the first complete French translation of all 13 American state constitutions, as Beth Prindle, Manager of Exhibitions and Programming 4/17/12, revised 10/22/12 •
CoD 9 well as the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Benjamin Franklin arranged for its publication several weeks before the Treaty of Paris was signed, believing this book would help gain recognition for his new country from the European powers. Only 100 large paper copies, including this elegantly bound edition, were prepared for presentation to the French king, queen, and their foreign ministers. Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, 1794: Wollstonecraft’s arguments in favor of the French Revolution angered Adams so greatly that he filled the small volume with more than 10,000 words of handwritten annotations in the margins. It is the most heavily annotated book in the collection. Adams’ objections range from points of style and lack of historical evidence to personal attacks on the author. Most importantly, Adams continually reinforces the need for checks and balances within a civil society. 2. Pre-­‐eminent among libraries and cultural institutions: One of the greatest private collections of its day, the John Adams Library remains the largest personal library collected in America during Adams’ lifetime known to remain extant and intact. 3. Historical significance that reflects the long-­‐term BPL commitment to the collection, buttressed by the past and current generosity of individuals: Since the arrival of this collection at the BPL in 1894, the Trustees of the Boston Public Library and the Keepers of Rare Books have invested significant money, staff time, and conservation efforts to its care and maintenance. Numerous federal grants have been secured for its support. 4. Central to the history of the City of Boston and the communities that inhabit it: Born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, John Adams represents one of the region’s most influential, famous, and important public figures. Adams graduated from Harvard in 1755 and began his law career in Boston. His most famous case, the Boston Massacre trial in 1770, was followed by multiple terms as delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. Many of the volumes in the collection date from this period. He is also responsible for writing the Massachusetts Constitution (1780) — still the oldest functioning constitution in the world and the precursor to the 1787 Federal Constitution, which was based on many of the principles Adams outlined for Massachusetts. 5. Resonates with communities of scholars and makes the BPL the destination for scholarship in a particular subject: This collection of books is most remarkable because it provides rare, firsthand insight into how John Adams shaped American history and how he was shaped by his own moment in history through his lifelong dedication to reading and books. The John Adams Library is of particular interest to scholars and historians for the thousands of interpretive and critical manuscript annotations that Adams recorded in the margins of hundreds of his books. In addition, scholars benefit from the close proximity to additional Adams-­‐related materials, including those at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the repository of the Adams Papers manuscript archive, and the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, custodians of the family home and artifacts. Beth Prindle, Manager of Exhibitions and Programming 4/17/12, revised 10/22/12 CoD 9 6. Universality of subject matter and furthers the purpose of the BPL by contributing to a democratic education: John Adams’ book collecting is reflective of the broader civic themes that he was instrumental in formulating and passionate in defending: the structure of democratic government, the balance of power, the rule of law, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the power of reading to educate citizens and transform the society. His library served as the foundation for a major public exhibition, John Adams Unbound, which featured the entire collection on display for the first time, attracting more than 60,000 visitors and providing them with the opportunity to explore and learn more about Adams’ life and character, his enormous contributions to the founding of this country, and his high standards for study, work, and citizenship. The 2006-­‐2007 gallery exhibition and the subsequent NEH-­‐
funded traveling panel exhibition, which visited 20 venues throughout the country, were supplemented with a companion web site enabling an even broader constituency to explore Adams’ passion for reading, his religious and political beliefs, and his guiding philosophies, and show how they influenced a life of action in the young nation. Provenance: As he neared the end of his life, John Adams could have sold his exceedingly valuable collection of books for a significant sum (Thomas Jefferson had recently sold 6,487 volumes to the Library of Congress for $23,950 in 1815) or dispersed his library among his heirs. However, at the age of 86, Adams made extraordinary arrangements for his library to continue serving the public good. In 1822, he donated 2,742 volumes from his personal collection to the Adams Academy, a boys’ preparatory school to be built in his hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts. The library would be moved within Quincy six times during the next 75 years before coming to the Boston Public Library, where it was formally transferred in 1894 by the supervisors of the Adams Temple and School Fund as a more central and accessible location for students and scholars to use the collection. Access: The John Adams Library collection is electronically cataloged and is available through the BPL’s online catalog. Digitization of the full collection through the Internet Archive is nearing completion: more than 3,100 volumes from the Adams Library are available to read online and download at In addition, a standalone website,, provides background information about the library’s history and contents. A 1917 printed catalog of the collection is also digitized and available online. Languages: Primarily English and French language volumes; selected volumes in Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, German, and Dutch. Related Collections: The Manuscripts of the American Revolution (Rare Books) Funding Support: Charles Wilkins Fund; FY13 Distribution = $48,706.11 Beth Prindle, Manager of Exhibitions and Programming 4/17/12, revised 10/22/12