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Thomas Pennant Barton Collection (Rare Books & Manuscripts)

Printed Materials in the Thomas Pennant Barton Collection

The Barton Collection is primarily composed of books and other printed materials. Most of the books fall into four principal categories: 1) printed works of Shakespeare and Shakespeareana; 2) printed copies of English plays from the early modern period; 3) the personal library of Edward Livingston, Barton’s father-in-law; and 4) works of literature and belles-lettres from continental Europe.

Shakespeare and Shakespearana

A substantial portion of the Barton collection is dedicated to printed works of Shakespeare (including some very early and rare editions) and works related to Shakespeare (Shakespeareana). These include the four early folio editions of Shakespeare (including both impressions of the Third Folio) and 9 quartos printed prior to Shakespeare death in 1616. This portion of the collection also includes adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, commentaries, and smaller volumes of his collected works. It is possible to trace changes made to specific plays over time by perusing the volumes in this collection, which makes it a valuable resource for textual criticism study.

Early English Playbooks

In addition to his extensive assortment of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, Barton also collected early editions of plays written by contemporaries of Shakespeare, such as Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and Elizabeth Cary. Since acquiring Barton’s library in 1873, the Boston Public Library has continued to supplement this collection of early English playbooks; there are now over 1,500 items in the collection.

As of 2018, the online portion of this collection represents the most substantial open-access repository of digitized early English playbooks available online. Many items in the collection are yet to be electronically cataloged or digitized, but you can locate them in the digitized card catalog for rare books.

Edward Livingston's Personal Library

After resigning from his diplomatic post in France, Barton and his wife, Cora, moved to New York to reside with her parents on their country estate, Montgomery Place. Cora’s father, former Secretary of State Edward Livingston, had amassed an extensive library of his own, which the Bartons inherited when Livingston died. Barton incorporated his father-in-law’s collection into his own library, supplementing his already-extensive collection of English and continental literature with roughly 4,000 books on jurisprudence and history.

Continental Literature and Belles-lettres

In addition to works of Shakespeare, Shakespeareana, and other works of English drama, Barton also collected works of literature and belles-lettres from continental Europe, including essays, treatises, and works of fiction, drama, and poetry. Languages represented in this part of the collection include French, Spanish, German, Latin, and Italian. Barton also possessed an assortment of catalogues from various booksellers, auctions, and libraries from England and continental Europe. 

Locating Printed Materials in the Barton Collection

Printed materials from the Thomas Pennant Barton collection are organized under an in-house BPL classification system where a single-letter prefix (in this case, G.) is inserted at the beginning of the call number. Numerous other collections are contained in the “G points”; therefore, not every item beginning with G. is from the Barton Library. However, per Cora Barton’s instructions, books from the Barton Library do contain a special bookplate.

Books from the Thomas Pennant Barton collection that have been electronically cataloged are available through either of the online catalogs via an author search for “Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner.” While some of Barton's collection has been electronically cataloged, many items are still accessible only through the digitized card catalog for rare books. Please reach out to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department with additional questions.

Notable books from Barton's library include:

Shakespeare's Folios

The First Folio, printed in 1623, was the first published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Since none of Shakespeare's manuscripts survive and only some of his plays were printed individually during his lifetime, early printed editions like the First Folio provide important information about the plays as they existed around the time Shakespeare wrote them. The later Folios (second, third, and fourth) included additions and changes to the text of the plays and even included new plays, some of which were determined to be by other authors entirely. The folio format was significant; it was typically used for more serious genres and English drama was typically not considered "worthy" enough to be printed in folio format. Barton collected all four Folios (including two editions of the Third Folio), all of which are available for patrons to view in the reading room. 

Lifetime Quartos

Several of Shakespeare's plays were published while he was alive and survive today in printed quarto editions. The Boston Public Library has 9 "lifetime quartos" in their collections, all of which come from Barton's library. They include early versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado About Nothing

Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America (1751)

Originally published as a series of pamphlets, Benjamin Franklin's reports on his experiments with electricity were compiled into a book and published in 1751. This copy was previously owned by Ben Franklin and contains annotations in his handwriting throughout the book. Barton inherited this book from his father-in-law, Edward Livingston. 

The tempest, or, The enchanted island : a comedy as it is now acted at His Highness the Duke of York's Theatre. (1676)

First published in 1670, this comedy by John Dryden and William D'Avenant was adapted from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. This edition contains the text of the operatic version of this play by Thomas Shadwell. While the writers maintained much of Shakespeare's language, they did simplify some of the bard's language and introduced several new characters to the plot.