Public Libraries of New York City 1893

THE General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, founded in 1785, and chartered March 14, 1792, for the relief of destitute widows and orphans, and which gave free instruction to apprentices previous to the establishing of the public schools, collected in 1820 a library which was made accessible to the public the following year in its building in Chambers street. In 1832 the society removed to 472 Broadway, where it remained until its present quarters at 18 East Sixteenth street were obtained. It has now about 95,000 volumes on its shelves, and its circulation is free.

The Young Men's Christian Association has a library of 40,000 books in its fine building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Twenty-third street. It includes 176 volumes containing 17,000 portraits, also the collection of the Earl of Egmont, continued by John T. Graves, which numbers 8000, and is bound in thirty-five folio scrap-books. It possesses also 523 volumes of engravings, embracing 26,000 prints or plates, reproductions of Rembrandt, Hogarth, and Turner. In the antiquities of Egypt, Greece, and Peru, it has 310 volumes ; in ornithology, 132 volumes ; and polar expeditious are represented by 102 volumes, extending over the period from 1817 to 1885. A rich collection is devoted to the fine arts, including 137 works on painting, 450 volumes on architecture, 84 on sculpture, and 118 on decoration. It also owns some valuable complete files of the New York dailies.

A collection of similar numerical size is that of the Maimonides Library at Third Avenue and Fifty-seventh street, which is general in character, but has special departments devoted to Jewish literature, to education, and to social and political science. The Free Circulating Library was incorporated in 1880, and reincorporated in 1884 under a special charter. Its books are deposited in four library buildings, situated respectively at 49 Bond street, 135 Second Avenue, 226 West Forty-second street, and 251 West Thirteenth street, with a distributing station in Lexington Avenue near One Hundred and Twenty-fifth street. Wealthy citizens have contributed generously to this admirable free library, and its benefit to the community at large is evident from its circulation of nearly half a million of volumes in 1892.

In addition to the library of the General Theological Seminary, noticed previously, the Union Theological Seminary at Park Avenue and Sixty-ninth street has an extensive and valuable library, numbering 67,000 volumes.

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York has a library of 38,000 volumes at its building in Twenty-ninth street near Fifth Avenue; and the Law Institute possesses an excellent collection of 39,000 volumes in its rooms in the Post-office building.

There is also a collection of 13,000 books in the Law Library of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, for the use of members of the Lawyers' Club and tenants of the Equitable building.

The American Geographical Society possesses a library of 23,000 volumes, collected since 1855, consisting of voyages, travels, geographical works, and transactions and bulletins of geographical societies. It has a collection of atlases of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and of United States government charts. A yearly appropriation supplies constant additions, aside from the contributions made to its shelves by its members and others.

The American Institute in West Thirty-eighth street has 14,000 volumes, and the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society owns a valuable collection of works of special interest to antiquarians.

The New York Academy of Medicine at No. 17 West Forty-third street possesses a medical library of 40,000 books and 15,000 pamphlets, to which about 1500 volumes are added yearly. Its files of medical journals are the most complete in the country, with the exception of those of the surgeon-general's office in Washington. The academy has published a catalogue, in two parts, of American and foreign medical periodicals, transactions, and reports.

Not so large, but of a similar nature, is the library of the New York Hospital at No. 6 West Sixteenth street, where 20,000 volumes on medicine, surgery, and collateral branches are open free to students.

There is also a large collection of medical works in Mott Memorial Hall in Madison Avenue, a son's tribute to Valentine Mott, the most eminent surgeon this country has yet produced.

The Genealogical and Biographical Society in the Berkeley Lyceum has several thousand volumes relating to biography and genealogy, also local town and county histories, many of which are out of print and exceedingly rare.

Several of the social clubs of the city have good collections of books. Perhaps the largest and most valuable of these is the library of the Century Club. The City Library, comprising about seven thousand volumes, is situated on the first floor of the City Hall, and consists chiefly of city, State, and government publications, and includes a collection of French governmental and municipal volumes. It originated in the attempt of Alexander Vattemare, in 1842, to establish a foreign literary bureau or exchange which should be controlled by the Common Council, and should be the headquarters for literary men of all nations in visiting the city. The plan proved a failure and was abandoned after two years' trial, Vattemare's books, now valued at about $40,000, remaining in the possession of the Board of Aldermen. The library has been shamefully neglected, and is discreditable to the city. Richard Henry Stoddard was at one time librarian, but soon resigned.

The Catholic Club at No. 120 West Fifty-ninth street has the best Catholic library in the country. It contains 20,000 volumes, of which a large share is devoted to theology; it is especially rich in books on Ireland and in the Irish language, as well as in works of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with fine and rare engravings on copper. It has also a number of illustrated works on the fine and ornamental arts, and a collection of books on the numismatics of the crusaders.

The nucleus of what will some day form one of our largest libraries is to be found in the spacious residence of the late Samuel J. Tilden. A sum aggregating between two and two and a half millions of dollars has been placed at the disposition of the trustees of the Tilden Library, after much vexatious litigation. Although Mr. Tilden's apparent purpose was to leave more than double the above amount for founding a great library, there is still sufficient in what has been secured to gather a collection of books rivaling any other in the city. An effort has been made to obtain the use of a part of Bryant Park for the erection of a suitable building by the city, the plans for which make provision for a million and a half of volumes; but nothing has yet been definitely settled upon. In the event of the proposed removal of the City Hall to make way for a larger municipal building commensurate with the requirements of the metropolis of 1893, it has been suggested that the reservoir on the Fifth Avenue between Fortieth and Forty-second streets be removed, and that the present City Hall be erected, for the use of the library, in the center of Bryant Park. The first important gift received by the trustees of the Tilden Library was made in January, 1893, by Miss Bryant, who presented a thousand volumes from her father's library.

Website: The History
Article Name: Public Libraries of New York City 1893
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Memorial History of the City of New York: From Its First Settlement to the Year 1892; Edited by James Grant Wilson Volume IV; New York History Company-New York 1893
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