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This Element examines the trade in rare books and manuscripts between Britain and America during a period known as the 'Golden Age' of collecting. Through analysis of contemporary press reports, personal correspondence, trade publications and sales records, this study contrasts American and British perspectives as rare books passed through the commercial market. The aim is to compare the rhetoric and reality of the book trade in order to assess its impact on emerging cultural institutions, contemporary scholarship and shifting notions of national identity. By analysing how markets emerged, dealers functioned and buyers navigated the market, this Element interrogates accepted narratives about the ways in which major rare book and manuscript collections were formed and how they were valued by contemporaries.
This chapter examines the motivations for and practices of library formation, development and management exercised by the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society (SGS), Britain’s oldest provincial learned society and second oldest museum. It contends that civic philanthropy in the form of library formation served as a core activity for SGS members throughout the first fifty years of the Society’s history, and as a key component of the society’s raison d’être. The SGS’s extensive archival and bibliographical holdings provide a means of examining the modes of acquisition, cataloguing and circulation of the three libraries under the SGS’s management in the period 1710–1755: the parish library of St Mary and St Nicolas, the library of Spalding Grammar School, and the library housed in the SGS museum. Spalding’s libraries provide a composite case study that reveals the interconnection of individual and institutional forms of philanthropy at work in eighteenth-century libraries. At the same time, the SGS emerges as a precursor of the later eighteenth-century subscription libraries and literary and philosophical societies that engaged in library formation as a means of fostering sociability, education, improvement and intellectual exchange in local communities throughout Britain.
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