Exhibit | June 8, 2012

American Antiquarian Society Exhibit at the Grolier Club

WORCESTER, MA— In honor of the American Antiquarian Society’s (AAS) bicentennial, the Grolier Club of New York will host an exhibition entitled In Pursuit of a Vision: Two Centuries of Collecting at the American Antiquarian Society from September 12 through November 17, 2012.  
            In Pursuit of a Vision tells the story of the significant collectors, librarians, and bibliographers who helped develop and expand the Society’s collections. The AAS library, recently described by the Pulitzer and Bancroft award-winning historian Gordon S. Wood, as “the greatest collection of early Americana in the world,” began with a founding gift of 4,000 volumes and now comprises holdings of over four million items of all manner of pre-twentieth century printed materials including books, pamphlets, newspapers, broadsides, graphic arts materials, ephemera and manuscripts created throughout the United States, the West Indies and a good portion of Canada. The Society possesses the largest collection of pre-1821 American imprints in the world.
             The exhibition and accompanying catalog describe seminal examples from the key individuals responsible for forming the AAS collections. The Society’s history begins with its founder Isaiah Thomas, who was a Revolutionary War printer and later the foremost publisher in the Early Republic. His initial donation included many of his own imprints including an early broadside containing a poem by America’s first significant black poet, Phillis Wheatley. Composed when she was seventeen in 1770, the poem describes the death of George Whitefield the English clergyman who prompted the Great Awakening, a massive religious revival that swept throughout the American Colonies in the 1740s.  The exhibition also contains a pamphlet Thomas created in 1775 composed of eye-witness depositions describing the battles of Lexington and Concord entitled “A Narrative, of the Excursion and Ravages of the King’s Troops Under the Command of General Gage, on the Nineteenth of April, 1775.”  
            Many of the items on display at the Grolier Club document pivotal moments in American history including the first Confederate imprint, a hastily created extra sheet from the Charleston Mercury proclaiming “The Union is Dissolved” on December 20, 1860. This broadside was donated to the Society by Nathaniel Paine a prominent Worcester collector and AAS member who responded to the Society’s call to preserve contemporary materials during the then unfolding Civil War.  The settlement of the West is depicted in another 1866 broadside that advertises - using thirteen wooden and metal type faces and vivid red and blue ink -  a history of the vigilantes of Montana Territory that could be purchased for the sum of $2.25 in “Greenbacks” or discounted to $2.00 if purchased in gold dust. This was a gift to the Society from Donald McKay Frost, who along with Thomas W. Streeter, did much to expand the Society’s coverage of the Midwest, South, and West.
            The development of American culture is also represented by the collectors showcased in the exhibition. Among these items is the only known copy of Pamela by Samuel Richardson, printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1742. This was the first modern novel published in America. Other items on display include a first edition of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States, Between the Years 1830 and 1838  donated to the society by Herbert E. Lombard. Frank Brewer Bemis donated many rare first books of prominent American authors including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Fanshawe, a Tale, published in 1828 and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Letter from the Rev. R.W. Emerson, to the Second Church and Society published in 1832.
            The Society’s extensive collection of graphic arts materials is represented by such materials as a chromolithograph entitled Cloisonné Vase published by the Boston firm of Louis Prang & Company in 1896 and an 1858 watercolor by David Claypoole Johnston entitled Taproom both of which were part of the collection of Charles Henry Taylor, a member of the family who founded the Boston Globe newspaper.
            In Pursuit of a Vision also examines the impact collectors of specialized fields had on building the AAS collections with examples of children’s literature, almanacs, hymnals, Louisiana imprints, racy newspapers, Caribbean newspapers and cookbooks, annotated auction catalogs and book bindings all part of the exhibition. Additionally, the exhibition details the development of American bibliography and book history the important role the Society has played in these fields.
LOCATION AND TIME: In Pursuit of a Vision will be on view at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, from September 12 - November 17, 2012. The exhibit will be open to the public free of charge, Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Additional information and directions are available at www.grolierclub.org.
CATALOG: A fully-illustrated 300-page color catalog of In Pursuit of a Vision, published by the American Antiquarian Society, will be available at the Grolier Club.
About the Grolier Club
            Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society of bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named after Jean Grolier the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his collection with his friends, the club maintains a 100,000 volume library, publishes books, conducts exhibitions, lectures and symposia to foster an appreciation the art, history, production and commerce of books.
About the American Antiquarian Society
            Celebrating its bicentennial as the country’s first national historical organization, the American Antiquarian Society is both a learned society and a major independent research library.
            The Society sponsors a broad range of programs - visiting research fellowships, research, education, publications, lectures, and concerts - for constituencies ranging from school children and their teachers through undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, creative and performing artists and writers, and the general public.
            The AAS library is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Wednesday from 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. It is closed on all legal holidays. The library is open to serious researchers, free of charge. Complimentary public tours are held Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m.  The AAS website is www.americanantiquarian.org.
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