Collections of Distinction

Posts Tagged ‘Americana’

Up for auction: S.L.M. Barlow’s early Americana at the BPL

Posted on December 19th, 2016 by jmoschella in Collections of Distinction

Image courtesy of: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

On Monday, February 3rd, 1890, the personal library of Samuel Latham Mitchill Barlow came up for auction in New York City. One of the major American book sales of the late 19th century, the auction of Barlow’s collection was also a watershed moment in the history of the Boston Public Library.

During his lifetime, Barlow had been one of the most successful corporate attorneys in the United States. Already a wealthy man before the age of 30, he went on to amass a tremendous fortune brokering transactions and settling disputes between major interests ranging from railroad companies, to mining ventures, to newspapers, to national governments. Over time, Barlow used his fortune to build a substantial collection of art and books, assembling one of the finest privately held libraries of early and rare Americana in the country. Thus, the sale of Barlow’s books at auction the year after his death drew interest from institutions and individual collectors around the world.

As it happened, the BPL, with its rare books collection then in a growing, but still nascent state, was particularly interested in the Barlow sale. Though exceedingly strong in certain areas, the library’s collections were still somewhat deficient when it came to rare and early Americana. Partially as a point of pride, then, the Board of Trustees saw the sale of Barlow’s books as an opportunity to both build the BPL’s collections and to bolster the library’s reputation at a single stroke.