Although the Society has concentrated its energies on collecting examples of popular fiction, rather than the canon of "Standard American Authors," the scholar concerned with American literature would be grossly misled if no reference were made to the Society's very substantial collections of first editions of the principal American writers. One of Clarence S. Brigham's proudest achievements was the development of outstanding holdings in this expression of American culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The First Editions collection is another example of Brigham's interest in literature. Working in concert with P. K. Foley, the Boston bookseller who compiled his generation's "definitive" checklist of American literary work entitled American Authors, 1795-1895; A Bibliography of First and Notable Editions (Boston, 1897), Brigham built a superlative collection around the nearly 6,000 titles that were composed by Foley's 286 authors. The Society maintains an annotated and greatly expanded version of "Foley." Items in the First Editions collection are described in the Imprints Catalog at AAS and appear in the twenty-volume Dictionary Catalog of AAS holdings published in 1971 by Greenwood.
Pre-1841 materials have been transferred from the First Editions collection to other collections but are accessible online. A card file of titles transferred from the First Editions collection is available on request.
Bibliography of American Literature, begun in 1955 by Jacob Blanck and completed in 1991 by Michael Winship, comes out of the same tradition as that of Foley (and Joseph Sabin before him). Blanck built on Foley's work as well as that of his own master, Merle Johnson, and used AAS as one of his principal sources to authors from the Federal period to the latter part of the nineteenth century. But AAS does not attempt to rival the complete collections of the standard American authors (except for James Fenimore Cooper) that are held by the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Library of Congress, Waller Barrett's great collections at the University of Virginia, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, and at the Huntington Library. Nevertheless, the scholar studying American literature will do well to examine the holdings of AAS, for AAS has on its shelves impressions, editions, or even unsuspected titles of our national authors that may solve a conundrum for the inquirer.
- by Marcus A. McCorison, President Emeritus; updated by Alan N. Degutis, Head of Cataloging