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Thomas Pennant Barton Collection (Rare Books & Manuscripts)

Manuscripts in the Thomas Pennant Barton Collection

In addition to printed books, the Barton Collection also comprises a large group of manuscripts. These fall into three principle categories: 1) Barton's correspondence with booksellers, shipping agents, bookbinders, and fellow bibliophiles; 2) manuscripts that Barton acquired or retained as part of his personal autograph collection; 3) catalogs of his library, inventories, and miscellaneous lists.


Letter from Thomas Rodd, 2 Great Newport Street, London, England, to Thomas Pennant Barton, Barrytown, New York, 1836 August 30 : manuscript.The Barton correspondence sheds light on Barton as a collector. It contains detailed accounts of how he built his collections, what he instructed his agents to purchase, and how he viewed the work of building a personal library. Contained within the correspondence are many detailed invoices, auction lists, bookbinding bills, and shipping documents. As a result, the collection also documents many aspects of book collecting and of the antiquarian book trade during the 19th century.

The correspondence also contains detailed descriptions of copies of books offered to, but not purchased by Barton. Many of these copies are now held by institutions around the world. The collection is therefore an extremely rich source for research into the provenance of rare editions of Shakespeare and of early modern English drama and literature more generally.


During the 19th century, "autograph collecting" became a popular pastime. Autograph collectors sought samples of handwriting from prominent figures, often based on themes: founders of the United States, literary figures, monarchs, etc.

Barton himself enhanced his library by cultivating his own comprehensive collection of autographs. In particular, Barton sought out manuscripts written by people associated with Shakespeare's works. He acquired thousands of letters and other documents created by Shakespearian editors, translators, commentators, publishers, printers, actors, collectors, and scholars. Barton also sought autographs and portraits of contemporary authors and poets, such as John Converse Heywood and William Rounseville Alger. BPL acquired many of these manuscripts as part of its acquisition of the Barton Library in 1873.

Catalogs, inventories, and lists

In addition to his correspondence and autograph collection, Barton also created his own handwritten inventories and catalogs of items within his library, including lists of "the best editions of the classics" and dramatic works. Barton's manuscripts are useful not only for tracking the history, provenance, and development of his collection, but also for envisioning the networks and interests of booksellers and buyers during the mid-19th century.

Locating and Cataloging Barton's Correspondence

Correspondence to and from Thomas Pennant Barton that has been electronically cataloged is available through either of the online catalogs via an author search for "Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869" and a genre search for "manuscripts." While some of Barton's correspondence has been cataloged, many items are still in the process of being inventoried and added to the online catalog. Please reach out to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department with additional questions.

Notable sections of the Barton manuscript collections include:

Letters from booksellers (238 manuscripts)

Includes correspondence from Obadiah Rich, William Pickering, John Russell Smith, Thomas Rodd, Horatio Rodd, John Penington, and many others. The correspondence in this group primarily concerns the purchase of rare books and manuscripts. It includes offers, lists of books, discussions of the market, updates on searches for Barton's desiderata, notes on binding and conservation, shipping of book crates, etc.

Letters to booksellers (cataloging in-process)

Contains replies to many of the letters sent to Barton. These include Barton's instructions for purchase, shipment, and binding; lists of desiderata, his requirements for the condition of books to be purchased, etc.

Ms.7339 - Correspondence regarding Thomas Pennant Barton's Library

This collection, which was removed from the book The Sketch of Thomas Barton’s Library (G.360.15 no. 1 FOLIO), contains correspondence from the English bookseller Thomas Rodd (1796-1849) regarding the selling and purchase of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Letters from additional correspondents include responses to Barton’s description of his library and descriptions of other copies of the First Folio. 

MS G.61.14 - Catalogue of Thomas Pennant Barton's books, 1860s?

A handwritten catalog of many of the books in Barton's collection, not including most of his Shakespeariana; a note on the first page of the catalog reads, "This catalogue contains all the books in my possession, except those comprised in my Shakespeare collection, of which only a few are noticed here."

MS.f.G.4062.1 - Shakespeariana; or, a complete list of all the works relating to Shakespeare, compiled by Thomas Pennant Barton, New York, New York, 1834-1836 (2 volumes)

A handwritten catalog of the Shakespeare portion of Barton's collection as of 1836.

Contact & Reading Room Hours

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Rare Books and Manuscript Department
Boston Public Library
700 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116

Reading Room Hours:


  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday: Closed
  • Wednesday: 9:30-4:30
  • Thursday: 9:30-4:30
  • Friday: 9:30-4:30
  • Saturday- Sunday: Closed