Exhibitions

Portrait of Thomas Pennant Barton » Portrait of Thomas Pennant Barton

Portrait of Thomas Pennant Barton

Portrait of Thomas. Pennant Barton
Watercolor on ivory, 1835

Nearly every book on display in this exhibition came from the personal library of one of the preeminent rare book collectors in 19th-century America: Thomas Pennant Barton (1803-1869).

Barton, of Philadelphia and New York, scoured the auction houses and book shops of both Europe and America in order to build his collection of rare and early editions of Shakespeare’s works. He assembled what eventually became the first major Shakespeare collection in the United States and the finest of its time. At its fullest, Barton’s personal library contained 12,000 volumes and included books which are still counted among the rarest and most valuable in the world.

In 1873, the Boston Public Library acquired Barton’s entire collection from his widow, Cora Livingston Barton. The library paid $34,000, less than half of the then-appraised value, for a now-priceless collection that represents one of the greatest cultural treasures of the City of Boston.

This is the only known image of Thomas Pennant Barton. It was painted in Paris in 1835, when Barton was 32 years old and just beginning to assemble his collection. (G.3.190 cab)