Lenox Library

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The Lenox Library was a free public reference library which grew out of the private book collection of James Lenox (1800-1880).

A lifelong bachelor of Scottish Presbyterian descent, Lenox inherited a large fortune from his father's commercial import business augmented by astute real estate investments. In 1840 Lenox retired from business to devote himself to his book and art collections. In 1870 the Library's act of incorporation was passed, a nine member board of trustees chosen, and plans were begun for a building to house the collections currently held in Lenox's home. The architect selected was Richard Morris Hunt and the site (donated by Lenox) was on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets in Manhattan.

In 1872 Lenox's friend and fellow bibliophile, George Henry Moore, became the Lenox Library's first Superintendent while also serving on the Board of Trustees. In 1885 Wilberforce Eames came to work for Moore as a private assistant. In 1892 Eames became Assistant Librarian, replacing S.A. Allibone, who retired. Eames went on to become an important bibliographer.

After the death of James Lenox in 1880, the Library continued to expand its holdings, mainly through gift and bequest. The Library dropped its admission ticket policy in 1887 in an attempt to make its collections more accessible to scholars. While these and other policy changes improved its public image somewhat, the trustees were growing increasingly concerned about their long-term financial viability. When in the spring of 1894, the Astor Library trustees began merger talks with the Tilden Trust, the Lenox trustees joined the discussions. The consolidation of the three in 1895 formed a new corporation: The New York Public Library.

From the description of Lenox Library Agency History. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122607971

The Lenox Library was a free public reference library which grew out of the private book collection of James Lenox (1800-1880).

A lifelong bachelor of Scottish Presbyterian descent, Lenox inherited a large fortune from his father's commercial import business augmented by astute real estate investments. In 1840 Lenox retired from business to devote himself to his book and art collections. In 1870 the Library's act of incorporation was passed, a nine member board of trustees chosen, and plans were begun for a building to house the collections held up to that time in Lenox's home. The architect selected was Richard Morris Hunt and the site (donated by Lenox) was on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets in Manhattan.

In 1872 Lenox's friend and fellow bibliophile, George Henry Moore, became the Lenox Library's first Superintendent while also serving on the Board of Trustees. In 1885 Wilberforce Eames came to work for Moore as a private assistant. In 1892 Eames became Assistant Librarian, replacing S.A. Allibone, who retired. Eames went on to become an important bibliographer.

After the death of James Lenox in 1880, the Library continued to expand its holdings, mainly through gift and bequest. The Library dropped its admission ticket policy in 1887 in an attempt to make its collections more accessible to scholars. While these and other policy changes improved its public image somewhat, the trustees were growing increasingly concerned about their long-term financial viability. In the spring of 1894 the Astor Library trustees began merger talks with the Tilden Trust, and the Lenox trustees joined the discussions. The consolidation of the three in 1895 formed a new corporation, The New York Public Library.

From the description of Lenox Library records, 1866-1915. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122626293

The Lenox Library grew out of the private book collection of James Lenox (1800-1880). Lenox, a lifelong bachelor of Scottish Presbyterian descent, inherited a large fortune from his father's commercial import business augmented by astute real estate investments. In 1840 Lenox retired from business to oversee his investments and devote himself to his true passions: bibliography and his book and art collections. With a genuine sense of philanthropic spirit Lenox decided to create a "public" library. In 1870 the act of incorporation was passed, a nine member board of trustees chosen, and plans were begun for a library building to house the collections held in Lenox's home. The architect selected was Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) and the site (given by Lenox) was Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st streets in Manhattan. Construction continued for seven years until the first public exhibition was held in 1877.

In 1872 Lenox's friend and fellow bibliophile, George Henry Moore (1823-1892), formerly librarian of the New York Historical Society, became the Lenox Library's first Superintendent while also serving as a member of the board of trustees. An Americana specialist and noted bibliographer, Moore was responsible for the publication of short title lists and the Lenox catalog: Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library of which there were six volumes. Moore also was directly involved with almost every aspect of the operations of the Library, from annual reports to individual admission tickets.

In 1885 Wilberforce Eames (1855-1937) came to work for Moore as a private assistant. In 1892 Eames became assistant librarian, replacing the current librarian, S.A. Alibone, who retired. Eames, with little formal schooling, taught himself several languages and had become a highly accomplished bibliographer. After Lenox and Moore, Eames was the third dominant force in the history of the Lenox Library.

While both free and open to the public, the Lenox Library required the public to apply by mail for nontransferable admission tickets which were then returned to the applicant by mail and had to be presented to gain admission to the galleries. No one was admitted without a ticket. This policy, along with the fact that not only was the library non-circulating, but that most of its holdings were for display purposes only, led to a great deal of public antipathy towards the library. Especially in the press, the Lenox was regularly vilified as elitist and unwelcoming. For their part, the Lenox trustees had based their admission policy on the British Museum's system and given the rarity of their holdings saw nothing wrong with it. Perhaps part of the problem arose from the general perception that the term "Free Public Library" meant different things to different people. According to Charles Ammi Cutter, "Every librarian knows that the Lenox Museum as it should have been called, was not intended to be a free circulating library for the poor of New York, nor even a library of reference for the literary man anxious to throw off a magazine article...in the quickest possible time... One might as well complain that the Zoological Museum does not give up its stuffed birds to furnish Christmas dinners to the poor."

After the death of James Lenox in 1880, the Library continued to expand its holdings, mainly through gift and bequest. The library dropped its admission ticket policy in 1887 and made its book collections more accessible to scholars. While these and other liberalisms improved its public image somewhat, the trustees were growing increasingly concerned about their long-term financial viability. When, in the Spring of 1894, the Astor Library trustees began merger talks with the Tilden Trust, the Lenox trustees joined the discussions. The consolidation of the three in 1895 formed a new corporation: The New York Public Library.

Lenox Library Chronology 1800James Lenox Born 1818Graduated Columbia College 1821Master's Degree Columbia/Princeton 1826Joined father's import business 1840Retired from business, residence at 53 Fifth Avenue. Began serious collecting. 1870 January 20Lenox Library incorporated; 9 member Board of Trustees including Aaron B. Belknap, Secretary. 1870 March 15Received endowment of $300,000 from James Lenox. 1870 April 17Received deed for future library site: 5th Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets. Richard Morris Hunt chosen as architect. 1871 MayFoundation laid. Additional $100,000 given by Lenox. 1872 October 3George Henry Moore elected Trustee and appointed Superintendent of Library. 1876Partial transfer of book and art collection from residence to new Lenox Library. 1877First Library exhibition, paintings and sculpture only. Construction continues, Library open 2 days weekly. Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volume 1, Voyages of Hulsius published. 1878November Gift of Duyckinck collection: 15,000 volumes, plus additional quantity of pamphlets and manuscripts. 1878 March 6Samuel A. Allibone appointed Librarian. 1879Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volumes 2-4 published. 1880 February 17James Lenox dies. 1880 MarchRobert Lenox Kennedy (nephew) elected president of Board of Trustees. 1880 June 4Aaron B. Belknap dies. 1880Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volume 5 published. 1881Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volume 6 published. 1884Astoin collection gift: 5,000 volumes on French bibliography. 1885Wilberforce Eames hired as assistant to Superintendant Moore. 1886 July 6Henrietta Lenox dies. Her will leaves $100,000 for purchase of books, as well as deed to land adjacent to Library with restrictions on future use. 1887Use of admission tickets discontinued. 1887 October 6Library notifies Alibone that his job will end on May 1, 1888 due to lack of funds. 1892Stuart Collection bequest of 12,000 volumes and 240 paintings. 1892 May 5George Henry Moore dies. 1892 October 7Eames appointed Assistant Librarian, retroactive to May 1. 1893 June 3Eames appointed Librarian. 1893The library of George Bancroft purchased for $84,492. Collection comprises 15,000 volumes, 5,000 pamphlets, 486 manuscripts. 1894Emmet newspaper collection purchased. 1895The New York Public Library is incorporated. Lenox Library building continues in use as division of the New York Public Library. 1896Emmet manuscript and book collection given by John S. Kennedy. 1911 March 18 - April 12Lenox collections moved to central building. Lenox Library building closed. 1912Lenox building formally turned over to Henry Clay Frick, who had purchased it in 1906. 1912 JulyBuilding demolished.

From the guide to the Lenox Library records, 1866-1915, (The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Archives.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Treasurer. Lenox Library Treasurer records, 1870-1895. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn New York Public Library. New York Public Library Visual Materials, 1875- New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn John Shaw Billings records, 1885-1915 The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Archives.
referencedIn Lenox Library. Librarian. Lenox Library Librarian records, 1879-1915, 1893-1915 (bulk). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Wilberforce Eames papers, 1850-1937, 1900-1937 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Moore, George Henry, 1823-1892. George Henry Moore papers, 1851-1891. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Alanson T. Briggs records, 1901-1913, 1901-1910 The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Archives.
referencedIn Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Administration. Lenox Library Administration records, 1870-1895. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn New York Public Library Visual Materials, 1875- New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Kellogg, Miner K. (Miner Kilbourne), 1814-1889. Miner Kilbourne Kellogg papers, 1842-1882. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Lenox Library Board of Trustees Agency History, 1870-1895. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Allibone, S. Austin (Samuel Austin), 1816-1889. Samuel Austin Allibone papers, 1853-1889. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn New York Public Library. Board of Trustees. Agent for Carnegie Sites. Alanson T. Briggs records, 1901-1913, 1901-1910 (bulk). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. President. Lenox Library President records, 1870-1880. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn New York Public Library. Board of Trustees. Committee on the Consolidation of the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Libraries. Committee on the Consolidation of the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Libraries records, 1894-1899. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Secretary. Lenox Library Secretary records, 1870-1895, 1893-1895 (bulk). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Lenox, James, 1800-1880. James Lenox papers, 1823-1936, bulk (1840-1880). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Lenox Library. Lenox Library records, 1866-1915. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Samuel Austin Allibone papers, 1853-1889 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Lenox Library. Superintendent. Lenox Library Superintendent records, 1866-1895, 1872-1892 (bulk). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Lenox Library. Printed form letter signed by George H. Moore, superintendent of the Lenox Library, [New York], to Augustin Daly [manuscript], 1891 May 20. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Stillie manuscripts, ca. 1889 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn George Henry Moore papers, 1851-1891 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn New York Public Library. Central Administration. Architect. Architect records, ca. 1900-1980. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn James Lenox papers, 1823-1936, 1840-1880 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Architect records, ca. 1900-1980 The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Archives.
creatorOf Lenox Library. Lenox Library Agency History. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Lenox Library records, 1866-1915 The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Archives.
referencedIn Committee on the Consolidation of the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Libraries records, 1894-1899 The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Archives.
referencedIn New York Public Library. Central Administration. Director's Office. John Shaw Billings records, 1885-1915. New York Public Library System, NYPL
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Allen, E. G person
associatedWith Allen, E. G. person
associatedWith Allibone, Samuel Austin, 1828-1895. person
associatedWith Allibone, S. Austin (Samuel Austin), 1816-1889. person
associatedWith Astor Library corporateBody
associatedWith Belknap, Aaron B person
associatedWith Belknap, Aaron B. person
associatedWith Billings, John S. 1838-1913. person
correspondedWith Daly, Augustin, 1838-1899 person
associatedWith Eames, Wilberforce, 1855-1937. person
associatedWith Hastings, Thomas, 1860-1929 person
associatedWith Hunt, Richard Morris, 1828-1895. person
associatedWith Kellogg, Miner K. (Miner Kilbourne), 1814-1889. person
associatedWith Kennedy, John Stewart. person
associatedWith Kennedy, Robert L. person
associatedWith Lenox, James, 1800-1880. person
associatedWith Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. corporateBody
associatedWith Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. President. corporateBody
associatedWith Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Secretary. corporateBody
associatedWith Lenox Library. Board of Trustees. Treasurer. corporateBody
associatedWith Lenox Library. Librarian. corporateBody
associatedWith Lenox Library. Superintendent. corporateBody
associatedWith Lockwood, I. Ferris person
associatedWith Lockwood, I. Ferris. person
associatedWith Maitland, Alexander. person
associatedWith Maitland, Alexander, d. 1907 person
associatedWith Moore, George Henry, 1823-1892. person
associatedWith New York Public Library. corporateBody
associatedWith New York Public Library. Board of Trustees. Agent for Carnegie Sites. corporateBody
associatedWith New York Public Library. Board of Trustees. Clerk corporateBody
associatedWith New York Public Library. Board of Trustees. Committee on the Consolidation of the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Libraries. corporateBody
associatedWith New York Public Library. Central Administration. Architect. corporateBody
associatedWith New York Public Library. Central Administration. Director's Office corporateBody
associatedWith New York Public Library. Central Administration. Director's Office. corporateBody
associatedWith Quaritch, Bernard, 1819-1899. person
associatedWith Quaritch, Bernard$d1819-1899 person
associatedWith Smith, Alexander Howland person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry, 1819-1886. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (State)--New York
New York (N.Y.)
Subject
Librarians
Antiquarian booksellers
Research libraries--New York (State)--New York
Acquisitions (Libraries)--New York (State)--New York
Research libraries--Acquisitions
Librarians--New York (State)--New York
Acquisitions (Libraries)
Book collecting
Research libraries
Library architecture
Libraries
Libraries--History--19th century
Rare books
Libraries--New York (State)--New York
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Active 1866

Active 1915

Americans

Information

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