Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Watchmaker-Polymath's Books

This morning I've finished adding books to the LibraryThing catalog of the books of Richard Cranch (1726-1811), the brother-in-law of John Adams (he was married to Abigail's sister Mary) and longtime friend of Robert Treat Paine (whose library I wrote about a couple weeks ago).

Cranch, born in Kingsbridge, Devonshire, moved to Massachusetts in 1746. He took up business as a card-maker, and later became one of the best-known watch repairmen in the Boston area. Cranch's interests varied widely (as you can see from the tag cloud for his books), extending far beyond horology and watch-making to encompass religious prophecy, the nature of the Antichrist, geography and navigation, history, languages (at least seven languages are represented in his collection) and classical literature

The library also reflects Cranch's interests in politics and government, in which he played an active role, serving two terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1779-1783) and a term in the State Senate (1785-1787). He held the office of Justice of the Court of Common Pleas for Suffolk County from 1779 through 1793, along with several local offices at various times. Cranch was also a delegate to the Massachusetts convention to ratify the federal constitution, where he supported ratification.

Cranch was a supporter of the Harvard library, and the college granted him an honorary M.A. degree in 1780, placing him with the class of 1744. He was a founding member of the Massachusetts Charitable Society, and the Massachusetts Society for Propogating the Gospel in North America (in its 1787 iteration). He sat as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, but declined membership in the Massachusetts Historical Society (he did donate a book to the Society's library, where it remains).

Thanks to the recent discovery* of a detailed inventory of Cranch's library taken by his grandson Richard Cranch Norton in January 1812 (in the Jacob Norton Papers at MHS), we can nearly reconstruct how the books were housed by Cranch: in two seven-shelf bookcases, with folio and quarto volumes on the lower shelves and books of smaller formats above (but not in much discernible order otherwise). Richard Cranch Norton also noted in his list which books he wished to purchase, and which books his father, Rev. Jacob Norton, had in his possession.

Another body of books from Cranch's library (including many legal titles) was given to his son William in 1797 after William's books had been seized by creditors. And there are various titles scattered here and there (as usual). But I fully expect to be adding more, as they appear in correspondence or in institutional holdings.

Interestingly, when I first glanced through the inventory of Cranch's books, I got an immediate impression of similarity between it and Robert Treat Paine's. So I wasn't all that surprised to find that the two collections are, both in terms of weighted and raw entries, extremely similar (see the "Members With Your Books" box on the left sidebar).

And now, on to the next!



*By Robert Mussey, who is working on a biography of Cranch and his family. I owe him huge thanks for collaborating with me on this project, and for his continued discoveries of books mentioned in family correspondence and notes.

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