At its inception it was the aspiration of the American Antiquarian Society to be "American" in the broadest sense of the word. In the original bylaws Isaiah Thomas stated that it was the objective of the Society to collect "books of every description, including pamphlets and magazines, especially those which were early printed either in South or North America." Collecting Spanish Americana remained a strong interest of the Society throughout the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth century. In 1868, the Isaac and Edward L. Davis Fund was established for the purchase of materials relating "to that portion of North America lying south of the United States." Subsequently, the scope of the fund was broadened and its income used for the purchase of works relating to all of Latin America. Stephen Salisbury, Jr., was interested in Central America and was instrumental in helping the Society develop its collection in the field of Central American anthropology and archaeology. During the early years of Clarence S. Brigham's tenure as librarian of the Society, the collection expanded, particularly in the area of early printing history. It was at this time that all of the bibliographical works of Jose Toribio Medina were acquired, as well as a large collection of Mexican almanacs and imprints. In addition, Henry R. Wagner gave the Society a considerable number of important books on Latin America.
In more recent years, it became clear that AAS could and need not cover the entire span of the American experience at a level useful for serious research. Therefore, in 1968 the AAS Council reaffirmed practices that had been followed for a number of years and accepted the proposition that the range of collecting would include the former French and English parts of North America from the period of settlement by Europeans through 1876. As a result of this decision, the Latin American collection was deliberately and extensively weeded, with many European and South American imprints going to Brown University, and afterwards, the newspapers to the University of Connecticut. Since then, only occasional additions have been made to the collection, with acquisitions restricted to West Indian imprints and to books and pamphlets dealing with Central and South America and the West Indies (generally relating to history, relations with the United States, or description and travel) that were printed in the United States before 1877. Secondary historical works, especially those concerned with the social, political, and economic history of the West Indies, and those concerned with the relations between the United States and Mexico during the period of westward expansion, are added with greater regularity.
Each country or region in Central and South America, and the West Indies is given its own number in the AAS classification scheme (H120 Andes--H880 Windward Islands). Almanacs (numbering over 500 issues) and West Indian newspapers are the major exceptions; they are shelved with other examples of their genre.
For current information on the cataloging status of this and other AAS collections, choose "Collection Access" below.
- Doris O'Keefe, Senior Cataloger