Digital Commonwealth

Thomas Prince Library and Collection of the Old South Church

Boston Public Library

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Comprising approximately 2,000 volumes of printed matter containing nearly 3,500 individual editions, the Thomas Prince Library and Collection of the Old South Church represents the combined collections of co-ministers Thomas Prince and Joseph Sewall, with additional books and manuscripts from the church library.

One of the most important colonial libraries to survive, in-tact, to the present day, holdings are particularly rich in early New England history and literature, along with theological works of the 17th and 18th centuries. Among other highlights, it includes the Bay Psalm Book (1640), and John Eliot's Indian Bible (1663), with many other editions representative of both the varied outputs of the early Cambridge and Boston presses, and of the intellectual life of colonial New England.

Throughout the collection, evidence of book production and readerly intervention is rich and varied. Early Boston bookbinders are particularly well represented, with specimens from the workshops of Edmund Ranger and John Ratcliffe, among others. Contemporary bindings made with recycled paper preserve many fragments of early manuscripts and printed books. Many volumes, too, are annotated by successive generations of owners, while duplicate copies held throughout the collection facilitate close comparison and bibliographic study. 

In addition to printed materials, the collection also contains over 1,000 manuscripts gathered and preserved by Prince himself. These manuscripts include papers of the Mather family, papers of the Cotton family, a group of papers relating to both the Cotton and Prince families, papers of the Hinckley family, and papers related to the case of Torrey v. Gardner (1734).

A digitized copy of the printed catalog for this collection is available through Internet Archive. The first and second parts of the catalog deal with American and foreign printed works; the last consists of the Mather, Cotton, Hinckley, and Prince papers.

Those items that have been electronically cataloged can be retrieved in either of the online catalogs via a title search for "Thomas Prince Library and Collection of the Old South Church."

Detailed background notes on the contents and history of the collection can be found in the preface to the printed catalog. A concise summary can also be found in: Hugh Amory, "A Boston Society Library: The Old South Church and Thomas Prince," in Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005): 146-162. (Rare Books & Manuscripts)

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