Dated Books and Pamphlets
Early American Imprints Published Before 1821
When, in 1813, Isaiah Thomas enumerated classes of materials suitable for deposit in the Society's fledgling library, he listed primus inter pares books, pamphlets, and magazines, "especially those which were early printed either in South or in North America." Ever since, Thomas's mandate has been so assiduously carried out that the Society's collection of books and pamphlets "early printed" in British North America has grown into the largest such collection anywhere in the world. In addition to works printed in the thirteen colonies that became the United States, and in the United States themselves and their territories, the collection includes smaller numbers of Bermudian, Canadian, and British and French West Indian imprints.
The books and pamphlets in the Society's collection touch on every subject of importance in American history, life, and letters through the year 1820, and on every trivial subject as well. The products of big city and small town presses from Abingdon, Maryland, to Zanesville, Ohio, are represented, as are all the ideas for which printers or authors imagined there to be a market, or at least a thirst, in their neighborhood, state, or nation.
The collection is now known by two names, "Dated Books" and "Dated Pamphlets" which reflect discrete shelving arrangements. It comprises approximately 35,000 items that were printed before 1821. This number does not include any almanacs or broadsides, nor does it include all of the Society's pre-1821 American books and pamphlets. (Certain materials are held in the Reserve and Bindings Collections and in the collections of state and federal documents.)
Until 1974 the Society for practical reasons tended to define "early" as "before 1821," thus following the lead established by the chronological limits of 1821-61 in Orville Roorbach's Bibliotheca Americana (1852-61) and the 1639-1820 projected scope of Charles Evans's American Bibliography (1903-34). In 1974 the Society redefined "Dated Books and Dated Pamphlets" to include works printed "before 1831." Several thousand pamphlets, 1821-30, were added to the Dated Pamphlets collection before this policy was abandoned in 1989.
From 1927 until 1970, the Society's early American imprints were cataloged by Avis G. Clarke. Miss Clarke's authoritative author, title, subject, and added entry cataloging for over 100, 000 of these books was published by the Society in 1971 as A Dictionary Catalogue of American Books Pertaining to the 17th through 19th Centuries: Library of the American Antiquarian Society (20 vols., Westport, Conn.). Miss Clarke also produced files of cards for these books arranged by date of printing, by name of printer, and by place of printing. The printers' files includes cards that synopsize each printer's career; these cards are backed up by "printer authority cards," which list the sources, ranging from contemporary newspapers to modern genealogies, for all information given in the printers' file. These files were not published with the Dictionary Catalogue, but are accessible in the reading room to all who use the Society's collections in person. The new machine-readable database of highly detailed bibliographical information on all pre-1801 North American books and pamphlets is available online both at AAS and at all member institutions of the Research Libraries Group through RLIN. For more information on this database, see the sections in this book on catalogs and arrangements of collections and cataloging programs.
All but a small number of the Society's pre-1820 Dated Books and Dated Pamphlets have been reproduced in microform as the largest part of the Readex Microprint-AAS Early American Imprints series. These two series, Evans 1640-1800 and Shaw-Shoemaker 1801- 1819, are held by several hundred college, university, and independent research libraries in the United States, Canada, and abroad. Information on obtaining this series is available at the Readex website. Cataloging records for the Shaw-Shoemaker series are available online through RLIN and OCLC; records for the Evans series are available through RLIN, or may be purchased from the Society by a library for incorporation into its own machine-readable catalog. Because the Society has made photographic reproductions of the complete texts of its early American imprints available to scholars worldwide, use of the originals is now limited to scholars engaged in specific kinds of research. This policy is part of the Society's commitment to ensure that the fragile originals of all documents in its collections will be available for inspection generations hence.
- by Keith Arbour, former Head of Readers' Services, and Alan N. Degutis, Head of Cataloging; updated by Alan N. Degutis