In that year, the three individuals who are most closely identified with Americana book collecting in the nineteenth century - John Carter Brown, James Lenox, and George Brinley
- began to seriously develop their collections.
approach to collecting was much more in the tradition of the great accumulators like Wallcut and Thomas.
During the Civil War, when prices for scrap paper reached unprecedented heights, Brinley
made arrangements with Hartford paper dealers to allow him to review mounds of scrap paper about to be pulped.
Here is literally a vision of the collector snatching material from the jaws of destruction; family legend has it that Brinley hauled an Eliot Bible from one of the piles.
As time went by, Brinley
dealt with Stevens more frequently, and by the Civil War had become his best customer.
continued buying American imprints at a brisk pace until his
death in 1875.
sale catalogue, one lot contained two imperfect copies of Increase Mather's Wo to Drunkards with a note to the effect that the fragments and a little facsimile work would make the pieces into one nice copy.
Francis Bedford wrote to Brinley at one point, 'I cannot but confess that the more I practice upon these early American printed books, the more I am compelled to consider their dilapidated state and condition.
will called for his
books to be sold at auction, and the cataloguing was entrusted to his
friend J. Hammond Trumbull, librarian of the Watkinson Library of Hartford
Trumbull had few useful reference tools at his
disposal for early imprints.
amassed the largest private collection of pre-1740 imprints ever assembled, and over a century later only a few institutions now rival his
In fact, a significant percentage of items for this period now extant came from the Brinley collection.
Virtually all of these have now passed into institutions, either at the sale itself or through the hands of other collectors before World War II.
The Brinley sale represented a significant shift, both in the nature of the buyers and in the emphasis on early imprints.
For the first time in an American book sale, institutional buyers dominated, aided by gifts of money left in Brinley's
will that were to be spent at the sale.
Other major buyers like Lenox or the Brown family created institutions within the next few decades.
Although there were other important private buyers approximately contemporary with Brinley
, by the early twentieth century the major holdings of early imprints and the leading purchasers were institutions.
In recent years, only one very extensive collection of early imprints has been privately formed.
35-67; Marcus A. McCorison, 'George Brinley
, Americanist,' Gazette of the Grolier Club
, n.s., 32 (1980): 4-23; William S. Reese, 'George Brinley and His Library
,' Gazette of the Grolier Club
, n.s., 32 (1980): 24-39; and Henry Stevens, Recollections of Mr. James Lenox and the Formation of His Library
, rev. ed. (New York, 1951), pp.
48See McCorison, 'George Brinley
, Americanist' for an account of Brinley
and the institutions.