Barton, Thomas Pennant (1803-1869) Collection

(Rare Books & Manuscripts)

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

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.

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 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 Collection, opens a new window (1888); Boston Public Library Bulletin, 4th series, v.3 (1921), pp. 173-177, opens 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.

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(Rare Books & Manuscripts)