Exhibit | January 17, 2013

Extraordinary Gifts: Rare Books Presented to the NY Society Library, 1754-2012

An exploration of the history of giving at the Society Library through archival records and the books themselves.

Free and open to the public.


Open January 24-September 30, 2013 during the Library’s open hours.

The New York Society Library

The Peluso Family Exhibition Gallery

53 East 79th Street

New York, NY 10075

(6 train to 77th Street)


This exhibition examines the history of book donations at the New York Society Library, the oldest library in New York City, from its founding in 1754 up to the present day.

The New York Society Library was built up in part by donations from its readers.  Archival evidence dating back to 1769 shows that through the better part of the Library’s first century, readers were permitted to pay for membership shares with gifts of books or by funding the purchase of books of their choice. Extraordinary Gifts traces the history of giving at the Library through archival records and the books themselves, beginning with the Library’s early history and ending with recent donations of modern books.  


Items on display reflect not only the historic engagement of Library members with the institution, but also trends in reading and book collecting over more than two centuries.  Highlights include items from the Library Archives, the only known copy of the Library’s first printed catalog (1758), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s set of Byron’s Poetical Works, and a letter written by Thomas Jefferson from Philadelphia in 1791.


This exhibition is free of charge and open to the public during the Library’s open hours through September 30, 2013.


The New York Society Library was founded in 1754 and is the city’s oldest library. The Library today is open to all for reading, reference, and selected events, with circulation and other services by subscription. The landmarked building dates from 1917 and includes reading rooms, spaces for study, stacks, and the Assunta, Ignazio, Ada and Romano Peluso Exhibition Gallery. The Library has approximately 300,000 volumes and hosts a variety of special events, reading groups, and workshops, as well as the New York City Book Awards.