Isaiah Thomas, Reader 

The History of Reading at the American Antiquarian Society begins not with a place, but with a person by the name of Isaiah Thomas. In the course of history Isaiah Thomas (1749–1831) has been called many things: printer, patriot, philanthropist, bibliophile, author of the first book on printing in America (it was titled History of Printing and appeared in1810), and, of course, founder of AAS.  Above all, however, he was a reader.  It was Thomas’s passion for the printed word, and the freedom to print the written word, that motivated him throughout his life.    

Thomas’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Thomas, wrote in 1874 that although his grandfather was busy with business, Thomas “always found some time for reading and study. He was strongly attached to the art, [to] which for nearly half a century, he had been devoted.” Although Thomas himself is strangely quiet on the topic of reading, the monument he built to facilitate this act speaks volumes. Today the American Antiquarian Society holds some three million books, manuscripts, newspapers, prints, and ephemera.  Antiquarian Hall is a notable space for reading.














Figure 1.5
Ethan Allen Greenwood’s portrait of Isaiah Thomas Sr. (1749–1831), June 1818.

[click image to view portrait information and enlarge]

Figure 1.6
Bookplate belonging to Isaiah Thomas, Early American Bookplates Collection.

[click image to enlarge]





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