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Thomas Pennant Barton Collection (Rare Books & Manuscripts)


The Boston Public Library has copies of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Folios of Shakespeare's works. The First Folio was the first published collection of Shakespeare's plays and was printed in 1623, seven years after his death. Prior to the publication of the First Folio, eighteen of Shakespeare's plays had never before been published.

Take a look: you can request to see items from the Barton Collection in the Special Collections reading room. Visit our website to schedule a reading room appointment!

The Boston Public Library holds nine quartos of Shakespeare's plays published within the bard's lifetime (1564-1616). These "lifetime quartos" include A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, and two editions of The Tragedie of King Richard II.

The first quarto edition of Shakespeare's A Midsommer Night's Dreame was printed in 1600. Only eight copies have survived, one of which is part of the Barton Collection (G.176.22).

"This musicke maddes me, let it sound no more..." In his final soliloquy, King Richard II contemplates his downfall and the many contrary roles he has played throughout the course of the play. BPL holds a copy of the second quarto of The tragedie of King Richard the second (G.176.32), printed in 1598.   

Considered to be a model for Shakespeare's folios, Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio (G.3811.5 FOLIO and G.3811.5a FOLIO) was published while Jonson was still alive. Prior to the publication of The Workes of Benjamin Jonson, the folio format was typically reserved for printing classical works, epics and longer poems, and other genres that appealed to the elite. Jonson elevated the status of his plays by printing both poems and plays in folio format. 

This 1858 reproduction of an early quarto of Shakespeare's The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke (G.166.5 and G.166.6) reveals an alternate version of Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech. 

One of twelve known surviving copies, BPL's copy of The Roaring Girle. Or Moll Cut-Purse (G.3974.40 no.1) includes a fictionalized dramatization of the life of Mary Frith, a woman who defied the gender binary of 17th century London by dressing, acting, and living in ways that were at the time reserved only for men.

Two items from the Barton Collection (G.4010.2 and G.3930.4 FOLIO) are bound in "Cottonian bindings." These items, recognizable by their patterned cotton cloth bindings, come from the library of English poet Robert Southey and may have been covered by his daughters or the daughters of other contemporary British poets. 

Related Collections

Numerous collections at the Boston Public Library complement the Thomas Pennant Barton Collection; many of these are other personal libraries or curated collections, while others feature content similar to that of the Barton Collection. Taken together, these holdings provide additional information about the collecting history of the BPL and demonstrate the variety of genres and formats currently available in Special Collections. 

All of these collections are freely available to the public and can be viewed in the BPL Special Collections Reading Room. For more information, see the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department page.

Featured Materials

The Rare Books and Manuscripts department holds numerous other collections that complement the subject matter and breadth of the Barton Collection. The Ticknor Library contains a substantial amount of early and rare European literature, particularly from Spain and Portugal, and includes a significant number of Spanish plays. Other collections, such as the John Gibbs Gilbert Collection and the Allen A. Brown Theatre Collection, complement the dramatic materials in the Barton Collection and showcase Boston-area performances and landmarks. 

George Ticknor (1791-1871) Library of Spanish and Portuguese Literature

George Ticknor, a Harvard professor of Spanish and French and one of the founders of the Boston Public Library, purchased materials for the library and bequeathed his extensive collection of almost 4,000 books of Spanish and Portuguese literature to the library. His collection includes early printed editions of Don Quixote, the manuscript of Lope de Vega's El Castigo sin Venganza, and surveys of many famous Spanish and Portuguese authors.



John Gibbs Gilbert Collection

John Gibbs Gilbert (1810-1889) was a Boston-born actor and manager of the Federal Street Theatre. He made his stage debut at the Tremont Theatre in 1828 and performed in Boston, New York, and London, among other places. He later became the manager of the Federal Street Theatre in Boston from 1845-1847. Gilbert collected an assortment of books and pamphlets of dramatic literature and frequently annotated them; his widow donated his collection came to the Boston Public Library in 1889. 



Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799

The Boston Public Library's collection of early English playbooks consists of over 1,500 items and includes plays, pageants, and other forms of dramatic literature. Many, but not all, of these materials are part of the Thomas Pennant Barton Collection. While many of these items have yet to be electronically cataloged, as of 2018, the online portion of this collection represents the most substantial open-access repository of digitized early English playbooks available online




Other Theatrical Collections at BPL

The Boston Public Library's Rare Books and Manuscripts department contains numerous collections related to drama and theatre. The Allen A. Brown (1835-1916) Theatre Collection contains several thousand monographs on a variety of subjects, including Shakespeare, dance, and opera and numerous 19th-century playbills from the Boston area. BPL also holds materials from the Boston (Federal Street) Theatre and the Tremont Theatre, as well as the Hanlon Theatrical Collection, which documents the performances of the Hanlon brothers during the late 19th century through scrapbooks, photographs, and scripts. 




Related Collections Elsewhere

Other institutions with materials related to Thomas Pennant Barton, his family, and his library include: