Collections of Distinction

John Adams Library

Location: Rare Books Department


Book spines The John Adams Library includes nearly 3,000 volumes collected by Massachusetts native and the second President of the United States John Adams during his lifetime (1735–1826), as well as hundreds of additional volumes donated by friends and family members during the 19th century. The complete collection of printed books and pamphlets now totals more than 1,900 titles and 3,500 volumes.

John Adams took enormous pride in his library, and his lifelong passion for books and reading spanned his varied roles as university student, Boston lawyer, revolutionary, European diplomat, and President and citizen of the early American Republic. What makes the collection exceptional is Adams’ scrupulous recording of thousands of interpretive and critical comments in handwritten notes throughout the margins of hundreds of his books. Not only are the volumes extensively annotated in Adams’ own hand, but they are also often the repository of other personal objects, such as letters, bills of sale, and the autumnal pressed leaves of New England trees.

Publication dates of the collection range from 1514 through the late 19th century. Holdings span the fields of classics, literature, history, politics, government, philosophy, religion, law, science, mathematics, medicine, agriculture, language and linguistics, economics, and travel.

Many volumes in the collection are extremely rare, including a number of important first editions and heavily annotated works. One of the greatest private collections of its day, the John Adams Library remains the largest personal library collected in America during Adams’ lifetime known to remain extant and intact.

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