The letter above was written by Edward I. Sears on June 7, 1861 to S. Haskins Grant, Librarian of the New York Mercantile Library from 1849 until 1866. Sears was a well known writer and editor of the National Quarterly Review. In the letter Sears writes: “As mentioned to you some time since, I have lost my library ticket. As sometimes have occasion to call at the reading room, I do not like to transgress ‘the regulations,’ I would like to have another if you please. I shall be more careful in future. Though I am very apt to lose anything of the kind.” This letter illustrates that a library card or ticket was an essential ingredient to any substantial library's charging or circulation system. At the time the New York Mercantile was using a ledger system, the predominant charging system for libraries up to the 1850s. This system, however, was not satisfactory for an active library. Just prior to Grant's resignation as Librarian of the New York Mercantile Library, the library implemented a temporary slip system. The lending transaction was recorded on the slip instead of a ledger, and the slip was disposed of when a book was returned.
I have just added a page to my Library History Buff website about library cards. Some of the cards related to me personally and some are part of my librariana collection. To see Michael Sauers' collection of library cards click here.