Monday, March 30, 2009

Cogswell Cover Story

My April library cover story on the Library History Buff website is about a folded letter written by Joseph Cogswell in 1855. Cogswell was the Librarian of Harvard College from 1821 to 1823, but he is better known for his work in building the collection of the Astor Library in New York City. The Astor Library was one of the library institutions that merged to form the New York Public Library. John Jacob Astor died in 1848 and willed $400,000 for a free public library. Cogswell vision for the library, however, was as a non-circulating reference library. A portion of this letter convey's Cogswell's philosophy. "The Astor Library is doing well & is found very useful to studious men; it was not intended for mens popular ... reading, but it furnishes abundant materials for those who write & dispense knowledge among the masses. It is frequented daily by from one to two hundred persons." The cover is franked with a postage stamp from Great Britain. However, the letter was written in New York, and is dated April 24th, 1855. There is a receiver's mark on the back with a date of May 9. The letter is addressed to J. (Joseph) Burnley Hume in London. The question arises as to how a letter written in New York was mailed in Great Britain. One possible explanation is that Cogswell sent the letter to a forwarding agent in London for re-posting. Cogswell dealt extensively with British book dealers and he may have sent multiple letters to a forwarding agent for re-posting. One book dealer that Cogswell dealt with was B. F. Stevens.

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