The Thomas Pennant Barton Collection is acknowledged as one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in a public institution focusing on the writings of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The collection was the first in the United States to include the first four folios of the collected works of William Shakespeare, as well as some 46 copies of individual quarto editions printed before 1709, nine of which were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The Barton Collection, now numbering approximately 15,000 volumes, is particularly strong in Shakespeare’s most important editions, as well as source material, commentaries, and criticism.
Additional collection strengths include translations of and commentaries on Shakespeare’s work; the works of his contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson; Shakespeare’s 16th- and 17th-century sources; an extensive collection of portraits and illustrative material, some in proof form; the original subscription list for Boydell’s Illustrated Shakespeare, with the autographs of George III and Queen Charlotte; correspondence of 19th-century antiquarian John Britton and great Shakespeare scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps; notes of editors and commentators inserted in various volumes; manuscripts in the hand of actor, playwright, and impresario David Garrick, including his play, The Jubilee, written for the famous Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769; an early manuscript version of the music to Macbeth, now attributed to Richard Leveridge; and eight volumes of Thomas Pennant Barton’s own correspondence with book dealers and collectors documenting the growth of this extraordinary collection.
- Full collection description (PDF)
- Digitized catalog for the collection accessible through Internet Archive
- Background information on Barton and his library:
- Catalogue of the Miscellaneous Portion of the Collection (1888); Boston Public Library Bulletin, 4th series, v.3 (1921), pp. 173-177.
- “America’s First Shakespeare Collection,” by John Alden, in Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, v. 58 (1964) pp. 169-173.
- More Books/BPL Quarterly (Vol. II, no.9: Dec. 1927) pp. 313-320.
- Wynne, James. Sketch of Thomas P. Barton’s Library. New York: Privately Printed, 1860.