Barton, Thomas Pennant (1803-1869) Collection

Portrait of Thomas Pennant Barton by Etienne Bouchardy (Paris, 1935)
opens a new window Portrait of Thomas Pennant Barton by Etienne Bouchardy (Paris, 1935)

(Rare Books & Manuscripts)

Thomas Pennant Barton (1803 – April 5, 1869) was an American bibliophile who is primarily remembered for the collection of books by and relating to William Shakespeare and English drama that he amassed between 1834 and 1869. Four years after his death, Barton's collection was acquired by the Boston Public Library, where it has remained ever since.

Barton's primary collecting interest was in the works of William Shakespeare and, in particular, in the early quarto and folio editions of his plays and poems. During his lifetime, Barton acquired many rare and early Shakespeare editions, including 45 play quartos issued before the English Restoration, nine of which were issued during Shakespeare's lifetime. Barton also acquired all four seventeenth-century folio editions (including the First Folio of 1623, two copies of the Second Folio (1632), both issues of the Third Folio (1663 and 1664), and the Fourth Folio (1685)). Among the many early Shakespearean quarto editions in the Barton collection are all nine of the Jaggard/Pavier quartos (sometimes referred to as the False Folio), as well as several early and rare anthologies and poetic miscellanies containing Shakespeare's poetry.

John Alden refers to Barton as "the first American to form an extensive, purposeful collection of Shakespeariana." Indeed, his participation in the Heber sale (1834-1836) marked a watershed moment in the history of American Shakespeare collecting. During that single sale, Barton acquired, among other things, the first quarto of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first quarto of The Merchant of Venice, and the third quarto of Hamlet (lot nos. 2012, 2014, and 2021, respectively).

Barton was also interested in English drama more generally, and the collection is particularly strong with respect to the early modern period, containing hundreds of quarto editions of English playbooks by playwrights including Christopher Marlowe, John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, and Thomas Heywood, among others.

Barton copy of the third quarto of Hamlet, published in 1611 (G.176.1)
opens a new window Barton copy of the third quarto of Hamlet, published in 1611 (G.176.1)

Barton also amassed substantial selections of French, Italian, Spanish, and German literature and belles-lettres. In addition, nearly 4,000 volumes in Barton's collection come from the personal library of his father-in-law, Secretary of State Edward Livingston, which Barton inherited in 1836. Livingston's library consisted largely of works on jurisprudence and history.

Background information on Barton and his library may be found in the Catalogue of the Miscellaneous Portion of the Collectionopens a new window (1888); Boston Public Library Bulletin, 4th series, v.3 (1921), pp. 173-177opens a new window; and "America’s First Shakespeare Collection," by John Alden, in Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, v. 58 (1964) pp. 169-173.




Online access

Those items that have been electronically cataloged are retrievable through either of the online catalogsopens a new window via an author search for "Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner."

Digitized materials from this collection can be accessed through Internet Archiveopens a new window or Digital Commonwealthopens a new window.

The 19th-century published catalog of the collection is a particularly useful resource, as it provides a comprehensive list of books in the Barton Collection, including many thousands of items that have not yet been electronically cataloged.

Early playbooks from the Barton Collection form the core of the  Early English Playbooks Collectionopens a new window.

(Rare Books & Manuscripts)