Collecting in the Early Twentieth Century
By the turn of the twentieth century, expanding the Society’s holdings became challenging for a modestly funded institution facing stiff competition in the marketplace.
Clarence S. Brigham, hired as librarian in 1908, was not concerned. He successfully attracted private collectors, electing them as members and encouraging them to place their treasures at the Society for the perpetual benefit of scholarship. One of his first successes was the expansion of the Society’s holdings of works by American writers into the nineteenth century. Brigham and a coterie of AAS members, including Herbert E. Lombard, Frank Brewer Bemis, and Charles Henry Taylor added over 6,000 nineteenth-century American literature volumes by 1946. For early American poetry, Brigham worked with Matt Bushnell Jones who collected bound volumes, broadside ballads, and newspaper carrier’s addresses.
In his enthusiasm to broaden AAS’s collecting, Brigham did not lose sight of the Society’s foundation: the comprehensive holdings of pre-colonial and colonial era imprints. The donation of John Whittemore Farwell’s library of early New England material in 1942 was deemed by Brigham, “the most important single gift of rare books that has come to this Library since the days of Isaiah Thomas.”