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THE foundation of the present institution was laid in the year 1731, when but few resources for literary research were accessible in America. A small number of gentlemen having subscribed the sum of one hundred pounds, a collection was commenced upon principles well calculated to disseminate knowledge, the books being allowed to be carried to the dwellings of the members of the company for perusal during their hours of leisure.
By slow degrees new members were added to the company, and the stock of books was annually increased by purchases, and by donations; among the donors the then proprietaries of Pennsylvania are to be numbered, and from them a charter of perpetual incorporation was obtained in 1742.*
*On the eighteenth of June, 1738, Dr. Walter Sydserfe, of the island of Antigua, presented to the company, for the purchase of books, the sum of thirty-four pounds, six shillings, three pence, sterling.
Samuel Norris, Esq. a respectable member of the company, bequeathed to the institution, in the year 1746, the sum of twenty pounds. This was the first legacy left to the
Abraham Claypoole, by his will, dated July 4, 1750, bequeathed to the company, at the death of his mother, one hundred pounds, Pennsylvania currency, which was paid to the treasurer, with three years' interest due thereon, in August, 1789. It was by mere accident that the directors of the institution obtained a knowledge of this bequest, three years after it became payable. This circumstance gave rise to that useful provision made by the legislature of this state, which enjoins as a duty on the registers of wills, to give notice to the society or incorporated body to whom a legacy shall hereafter be left.
The late William Logan, son of the Hon. James Logan, the founder of the Loganian Library, presented to the institution a number of very scarce and valuable works.
The utility and success of this measure, caused other libraries to be commenced, but it soon appeared to be more conducive to the interests of literature, that there should be one large rather than several small collections of books, and coalitions gradually took place among them, till the Amicable, the Association, and the Union companies were blended with the Library Company of Philadelphia, the title conferred by the charter. Since this period the members and property of the company have continued to increase, the former being eight hundred and thirty-six in number; the number of volumes exclusive of eight thousand six hundred and sixty-three in the Loganian Library, (of which there is a separate catalogue,) permanently annexed to this institution, at present amounts to thirty-five thousand two hundred and twenty-one, the selection being generally of a character to promote the more important interests of society; this stock is continually increased by occasional donations, importations, and purchases of American productions of merit.
Besides the books, the personal property consists in some available funds yielding interest, the sale of shares, the price of each of which since 1793 has been fixed at forty dollars, and the annual payments of four dollars from each member. The real estate of the company consists of the lot and buildings where the Philadelphia and Loganian libraries are kept.
The members dispose of their shares by transfer or will, but the assent of the directors, as well in such cases, as in case of an original purchase, is previously necessary; a restriction early adopted, in order, as much as possible, to prevent improper persons from having access to a collection of a nature peculiarly liable to injury.
Of the value of the library as a whole, it is sufficient to refer the inquirer to the accompanying catalogue, which, however incomplete in some of its departments, will, it is believed, compare advantageously with any in America. The influence which it has exerted, and con
John Bleakley, Esq. who had been a much esteemed director of the institution bequeathed to the company the sum of one thousand pounds, which was paid to the treasurer of the institution, in November, 1804, by Joseph P. Norris, Esq. the executor of his last will.
In 1803, the Rev. Samuel Preston, rector of Chevening, in Kent, Great Britain, bequeathed to the company above two thousand five hundred volumes, many of them very splendid works; and two shares of the stock of the first Bank of the United States, the par value of which was eight hundred Dollars. In August, 1804, the company received from London the books, prints, &c. bequeathed by the Rev. Samuel Preston, and an elegant portrait of him, painted by our celebrated countryman Benjamin West, presented to the institution by Mrs. West.
The late William Mackenzie, Esq. of this city, bequeathed five hundred volumes to be chosen by the directors from his English books; he also made a liberal bequest to the Loganian Library, and by an arrangement made with the executors of his last will and testament the residue of his valuable library was purchased on very liberal terms by the two institutions.
Dr. Thomas Parke, who had, with great fidelity, served the institution as a director for nearly fifty-seven years, bequeathed to the company a perpetual ground rent of fifty dollars per annum, free from taxes-valued at one thousand dollars.
tinues to exert, on the character of the city in which it is located has been and is highly beneficial. During the period when the congress of the United States, and the legislature of the state met in Philadelphia, the use of its treasures was freely granted to the members; and though it is desirable that the library should not partake of the character of a reading-room, the Athenæum supplying that desideratum, citizens and strangers are permitted to consult the books without charge.
For the charter, laws, rules, regulations, &c. see the ensuing few pages.
JOHN PENN, THOMAS PENN, and RICHARD PENN, Esquires, true and absolute proprietaries of the province of Pennsylvania, and counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex, upon Delaware To all to whom Preamble. these presents shall come, greeting, Whereas, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Grace, Anthony Nicholas, Thomas Cadwalader, William Coleman, Thomas Godfrey, Henry Pratt, Benjamin Paschall, Joseph Breintnall, John Jones, jun., Samuel Hale, William Parsons, Nicholas Cassel, Francis Richardson, William Maugridge, David Bush, Thomas Hopkinson, Philip Syng, Jacob Duché, Evan Morgan, Joseph Stretch, John Paschall, Nicholas Scull, Thomas Green, Hugh Roberts, Rees Lloyd, John Roberts, Richard Standley, John Nicholas, John Sober, Charles Read, Daniel Harrison, James Morris, Thomas Shaw, John Read, Joshua Richey, James Hamilton, William Plumsted, John Bard, Samuel Morris, John Stamper, Samuel Norris, John Mifflin, John Langdale, Samuel Coates, Samuel Rhoads, Joseph King, Alexander Graydon, James Merrywether, Anthony Morris, jun., Tobias Griscom, Charles Willing, Isaac Williams, William Allen, Joseph Peters, Richard Peters, Thomas Clay, Phineas Bond, Israel Pemberton, jun., Robert Greenway, William Crosthwaite, William Callender, George Emlen, jun., Isaiah Warner, Tench Francis, James Bingham, Charles Meredith, Samuel M'Call, Hugh Davy, Amos Strettell, Benjamin Shoemaker, Joseph Hatton, Andrew Hamilton, Thomas Bond, and William Peters, have, at a great expense, purchased a large and valuable collection of useful books, in order to erect a library for the advancement of knowledge and literature, in the city of Philadelphia; Now know ye, That we being truly sensi- Motives to ble of the advantage that may accrue to the people of this province, by so useful an undertaking, and being willing to encourage the same, Have given and granted, and by these presents do, for us, our heirs and successors, give and grant, That the said Benjamin Franklin, Names of the Robert Grace, Anthony Nicholas, Thomas Cadwalader, William Cole- grantees. man, Thomas Godfrey, Henry Pratt, Benjamin Paschall, Joseph Breintnall, John Jones, jun., Samuel Hale, William Parsons, Nicholas Cassel, Francis Richardson, William Maugridge, David Bush, Thomas Hopkinson, Philip Syng, Jacob Duché, Evan Morgan, Joseph Stretch, John Paschall, Nicholas Scull, Thomas Green, Hugh Roberts, Rees Lloyd, John Roberts, Richard Standley, John Nicholas, John Sober, Charles Read, Daniel Harrison, James Morris, Thomas Shaw, John Read, Joshua Richey, James Hamilton, William Plumsted, John Bard, Samuel Morris, John Stamper, Samuel Norris, John Mifflin, John Langdale, Samuel Coates, Samuel Rhoads, Joseph King, Alexander Graydon, James Merry wether, Anthony Morris, jun., Tobias Griscom, Charles Willing, Isaac Williams, William Al