A Few Well Selected Books

Haverford's First Library Catalog, 1836

Evidence from the catalog

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1836 Library Catalog, Cover Detail, 1836 Catalog Examining Book Characteristics Original Haverford School Bookplate A shelf number on a bookplate and its catalog entry Spine labels from Haverford's early books Inscriptions in early library books
Printed just three years after the opening of Haverford School (which later became Haverford College), the 1836 library catalog includes just 770 titles.
Each catalog entry is brief, including only a shelf number, the author's surname, a title, and a number of volumes.
Deciding which books in Haverford's libraries are survivors of the 1836 collection was a challenge, but library staff preparing the exhibition were able to identify a few characteristics shared by many of the early books.
One important clue was the presence of Haverford's earliest known bookplate, dating from before the 1850s, when the institution became a College.
Some of these bookplates bear still identifiable shelf numbers, which can be cross-referenced with catalog entries.
Volumes dating from the 19th century also frequently have a distinctive blue-and-white spine label and a gold dot, a sticker added at some point before the 1940s to identify older and less-used volumes kept in a particular case in the Library.
The most interesting characteristics are inscriptions: at left, The District School bears the name of Board of Managers member Thomas Cock, while at right, The Nautical Almanac was signed by Haverford's first science teacher John Gummere, who also helped select the school's first books.
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Before opening their school, Haverford's Board of Managers appointed a committee to purchase books for the school library. This committee's careful selections of current and classical authors were designed to raise the school’s prestige and to indicate the rigorous study that Haverford's “guarded and liberal” education would require. In particular, the inclusion of “complete sets of the Latin and Greek Classics” made clear that unlike many Quakers, the Board of Managers believed that an exposure to great works by non-Christians was essential to the intellectual development of young boys. Their library also included key mathematical and scientific treatises in the original French and versions of Barclay’s Apology, a key Quaker text, in English, Latin, Danish, and Spanish. Unsurprisingly, books by and about Quakers were well represented, including works by Quaker women as well as men.

Haverford's first catalog is just as notable for what it did not include. The selection of English literature was small: lumped together into a catch-all section of the catalog titled “Works of Authors who have Written on Various Subjects,” one may find Addison, Johnson, Bacon, Milton, and Pope, but almost nothing that could be mistaken as unwholesome or frivolous. There is no Donne, Pepys, Defoe, or Swift, and certainly no Shakespeare. Over the course of ensuing decades, however, the activities of Haverford student societies and other community members would significantly change the makeup of the collection.