> During my first week on the job I spent some time with the reference collection (the librarian’s basic toolkit), and I was thrilled to discover that we have an extra-illustrated copy of John Russell Bartlett’s Bibliotheca Americana: A catalogue of books relating to North and South America in the Library of John Carter Brown of Providence, R.I. (Providence, 1865-1871). What is fabulous about our copy is that it was Bartlett’s own, given to the Library by his son, John Russell Bartlett, Jr. (1843-1904), who was retired a Rear Admiral from the navy.
Bartlett senior met John Carter Brown around 1845, when the former was a bookseller in New York, and a relationship was established as dealer and collector. After his tenure in the Southwest as the Mexican Boundary Commissioner, Bartlett returned to Providence, the place of his birth, in 1853. John Carter Brown had mentioned in 1849 that he would “be glad to have your advice and suggestions regarding some part of my library,” and Bartlett began working with Brown in earnest to pursue books related to the “Great Subject” (Brown’s term for the expansion of Europe into the Americas).
The printed catalogues helped to legitimate the field of Americana collecting, and consequently drove prices for these items up (unfortunately for Brown). They also informed the public of the scope of the collection, thereby increasing the demand for answers to reference and research questions. The second catalogue also provided a bibliographical training ground for the sons of John Carter Brown (John Nicholas and Harold), who spent much of their time with proof sheets of the latter volumes, sending corrections and suggestions to Bartlett.
Shown here are instructions in Bartlett’s hand for the insertion of illustrations, starting with a portrait of George Alsop, to accompany the catalogue entry for his famous A character of the province of Maryland (1666).