Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alexander Hamilton's Library

I've just completed work on Alexander Hamilton's library in LibraryThing - it's now available here. This is one of the most tricky of the Libraries of Early America collections, for reasons I'll try to explain here.

So far as scholars have discovered, no catalog or inventory of Hamilton's library exists. In fact, the most complete document relating to his collection is a letter he sent to Richard Varick on 16 June 1795, requesting ten law books he had loaned and wanted back.

A collection of Hamilton books was deposited at Columbia University in 1955 by Alexander Hamilton III, and were donated to the university by his widow in 1973. Many of those books were probably in Alexander Hamilton's collection, but there is reason to believe that at least a portion of them were added after his death in 1804. Those books published prior to 1804 have been included in his LT library, with the vital caveat that there is a chance they may not have belonged to AH.

Beyond the Columbia collection, I scoured the twenty-seven volume set of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton and the five volumes of The Legal Papers of Alexander Hamilton (both Columbia University Press) and was able to add another segment of the library: those books sent to AH by various authors, those he cited in his published essays and letters, and those few we have record of his purchasing from booksellers. Following this, I added additional titles based on a list created by the editors of his legal papers based on his citations. And I found a few titles scattered here and there in various institutions, plus some in auction/dealer catalogs. All those taken together comprise the 315 titles in his LT catalog.

However - there are still mysteries to be solved. These include:

- This snippet. Any help in tracking down the auction catalog here snippeted (which appears to be a 1972 Parke-Bernet list) would be most appreciated.

- Some books from Hamilton's law library are believed to have been given to something known as the "Irving Library Association" in the 1870s by one of Hamilton's descendants. Google searches reveal possible organizations by this name in MA (the most likely suspect, I think), KY, and TX, but unfortunately none of them seem to have left much of a trail. If you know of this group, any information would be helpful.

- We know from his letter to Varick that Hamilton signed his books ("I believe my name will be found written in any that belong to me"), so it's likely that there are more lurking out there. Additions to the LT collection would be very useful.

Many thanks in advance for any assistance on those questions, and I want to take this opportunity to offer my sincere gratitude to Jane Siegel for providing the catalog cards from Columbia that allowed this project to get off the ground!

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