I recently added this 1848 library ticket (card) for the Boston Athenaeum to my collection of librariana. The ticket is signed by Athenaeum Librarian Charles Folsom. Folsom was librarian of the Harvard College Library from 1823 to 1826 and librarian of the Boston Athenaeum from 1845 to 1856. The Boston Athenaeum which was founded in 1807 was a type of membership library which initially required an annual subscription of $10. In the beginning, the Athenaeum emphasized its reading room which was "furnished with all the celebrated political literary, and commercial journals of the day, foreign and domestic." Among its rules and regulations was "no book, pamphlet, or newspaper is ever to be permitted to be taken from the room by subscribers; so that patrons of the institution may be certain at all times of finding any publications which they may have occasion to read or refer to." The Athenaeum changed from an annual subscription library to one which required the purchase of shares which were limited in number to 1,049 by its charter. Purchasers of shares were called "Proprietors". In the ticket above Proprietor Alvan Lamson (who held share # 189) has authorized use of the library by his son Artemas Ward Lamson who inherited his father's share in 1865. Athenaeums in the United States were mostly institutions for the elite and were very different from the free public libraries that evolved in this country in the second half of the 19th century. A good article in the New York Times on the remaining athenaeums including the Boston Athenaeum is located here.
There are still libraries called "Anthaneum" in New England today. The Nantucket Athaneum [http://www.nantucketatheneum.org/] is the public library for the town/county/island.
The social library concept (which you explained) was transformed in the 1800s when the public library movement swept New England. I know my hometown, Shrewsbury Mass, had a social library starting in the 1760s which pre-dated the now public library. The original books are (or were) part of the local history room.
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