Isaiah Thomas’s Library Catalog Is Now Digital

Jeremy Dibbell is the director of communications and outreach at Rare Book School and the volunteer head of the Legacy Libraries and Libraries of Early America projects for LibraryThing. He is always happy to receive information on American book lists/inventories/catalogs of any size, particularly for the colonial period.

In July 1812, Isaiah Thomas presented a large collection of books, pamphlets, and newspapers to the nascent American Antiquarian Society. He documented this gift, and additional items given through 1821, in a manuscript volume headed “Catalogue of The private Library of Isaiah Thomas, Senior, Of Worcester, Massachusetts.”

Marcus McCorison (1926–2013), who served as librarian, director, and then president of AAS from 1960 until his retirement in 1992, worked for many years to transcribe and annotate Thomas’s library catalog, identifying the works indicated and adding important bibliographical citations and context. In September 2012, AAS President Ellen Dunlap and I met with Marcus and proposed the use of the social book-cataloging website LibraryThing to present his work on Thomas’s library as part of the site’s Legacy Libraries project. Established in 2007, this project allows for the documentation and cataloging of historical libraries; information on more than 1,900 libraries (including more than 1,700 early American libraries) has been added to date. I had demonstrated the possibilities of this project to Marcus several years earlier by showing him the LibraryThing catalogs of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, so when Ellen and I suggested that it might work for Thomas’s library, he wholeheartedly approved the idea, and I got to work.

Thomas’s manuscript entries for dictionaries

As is the way of such things, it took a whole lot longer than I thought it would when I agreed to do it, but in January I finally finished adding books to the Isaiah Thomas account on LibraryThing. The account now includes the titles included in Thomas’s manuscript catalog, as well as more than 550 additional books in the AAS collections identified as being given by Thomas after the period covered by the catalog. Marcus’s citations and transcriptions have been included with each record mostly as given in his final draft version of the catalog, though I corrected a handful of obvious errors where found, and in several instances I was able to identify specific editions unlocated by McCorison. I have also added the current AAS call number and any copy-specific information as given in the catalog records.

Thomas’s dictionary entries in LibraryThing

Isaiah Thomas’s bookplate

Thomas’s catalog in LibraryThing is keyword-searchable and browseable (click on the header of any column to re-sort), and includes both books still at AAS and those no longer in the AAS collections. Sorting on the “Dewey/Melvil” column, which contains McCorison’s citation number for each book, will display the records in the order given in Thomas’s manuscript. Tags have been added to each record based on Thomas’s own categories as given in the manuscript catalog.

There is much more work that might be done (many books currently at AAS are not specifically identified as Thomas’s, for example, so those could be checked to determine whether they bear marks of his ownership), and I will happily add any updates, corrections, &c. as needed. I hope that this resource will prove useful for anyone interested in Isaiah Thomas’s books, the output of his printing and publishing outfits (very well documented in the catalog), and the early AAS collections.

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