John Carter Brown library

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Holding Repository

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John Carter Brown of Providence, Rhode Island, began to decisively collect books about America in 1848, although he had started collecting rare books, “the favorite pastime of wealthy noblemen” much earlier. An admirer of Old World traditions, Brown focused upon European voyages and travels, as well as books that provided a background for European expansion.

Around 1846, he began an avid pursuit of Americana, an area of interest he termed “the Great Subject.” His son, John Nicholas Brown (1861–1900), actively continued this tradition and before his untimely death had conceived the idea of giving the Library to the world of historical research as a memorial to his father. In his will, John Nicholas Brown assigned funds for the construction of an appropriate building and for an endowment to support the Library’s work. The original Library building was formally dedicated in 1904.

  • 1827: The earliest date known for the purchase of a book of American interest by John Carter Brown (JCB) (1797-1874). The earliest purchase by a member of the Brown family of a book currently in the Library's collection was the mid-eighteenth century.
  • 1846: JCB begins systematic collecting of Americana, "the great subject," and collects in this one year over 500 items. Of the 500 items JCB acquired, of note are three edition of Christopher Columbus's celebrated "letter" to the Spanish court announcing the discovery of the new lands to the West. One of these "letters" contained the first effort to depict the inhabitants of the New World.
  • 1848: Purchase of the first navigation manual in Spanish (one of the first to be printed in any language), Martin Fernandez de Enciso, Suma de geographia, Seville, 1519. The manual included rough sailing directions for the known coast of America, based on Enciso's actual experience.
  • 1853: John Russell Bartlett, formerly chief of the commission responsible for running the boundary between the United States and Mexico after the Mexican War, becomes JCB's advisor and the Library's unofficial librarian. During the eighteen years he was Secretary of the state of Rhode Island, Bartlett continued in his roles as friend to the Browns and advisor to the collection. Bartlett was a conduit through which JCB became interested in fields virtually untouched by his contemporaries, including native American linguistics and early Latin American imprints.
  • 1859: John Carter Brown (age 62) marries Sophia Augusta Browne (no relation). Together they strengthen and expand the collection.
  • 1859: Acquire Samuel Champlain, Des sauvages, Paris [1603], the first book about New France by the man who gave the French their first permanent foothold in the New World.
  • 1861: Birth of John Nicolas Brown (JNB [I]) (1861-1900).
  • 1863: Fireproof library wing, designed by prominent architect Richard Upjohn, added to Brown family residence on Benefit Street, Providence. The collection's transfer to the new wing marked its transition into an organized reference library.
  • 1865: Publication of a chronological catalog of the holdings of the John Carter Brown Library, Bibliotheca Americana. With this publication, one of the earliest comprehensive printed catalogs to be produced, began the Library's tradition of serving scholars from around the world.
  • 1868: Purchase of the Library's first print--Peter Gordon, A view of Savannah, [London], 1734.
  • 1871: Acquisition of Amerigo Vespucci, Van der nieuwer werelt, [Antwerp, 1507], the only known surviving copy of his third voyage translated into Dutch. It contains some of the earliest woodcut views of American Indians.
  • 1874: Death of JCB. His widow continues to build the collection with the assistance of John Russell Bartlett, who also tutors JNB (I) on the collection.
  • 1881: Purchase of the first book printed in British North America, The whole book of Psalmes, Cambridge, Mass., 1640-the only copy still in its original binding and carrying the autograph of one of its translators, Richard Mather.
  • 1893: Purchase of confidential Revolutionary War correspondence between George Washington and Joseph Reed.
  • 1893: JNB (I) assumes active management of the Library, although Sophia Augusta Brown retains actual title to the collection until 1898.
  • 1893: Purchase of two manuscript atlases. The Agnese atlas was specially commissioned by Charles V for his son (who would become Philip II of Spain), this brilliantly illuminated atlas was created by the Italian cartographer, Battista Agnese. The Maggiolo atlas is one of the earliest atlases to show the American continent and was produced by Vesconte Maggiolo in 1511 within two decades of the discovery of America.
  • 1895: George Parker Winship named first official Librarian of the collection. One of Winship's major achievements was the opening up of the Library for use by scholars. During his 19-year tenure, Winship broadened the Library's scope to include eighteenth-century works.
  • 1896: Acquisition of earliest book printed in the New World of which a complete copy survives, Juan de Zumarraga, Doctrina breve, Mexico, 1544.
  • 1898: JNB (I) marries Natalie Bayard Dresser.
  • 1900: Birth of John Nicholas Brown (II).
  • 1900: Death of JNB (I) in May at age 39. His will includes a bequest to create a new separate building for the Library to be named for his father. It also includes an endowment to ensure its continued operation. The choice of a location was left to the trustees and executors of the estate of JNB (I). Ultimately, the campus of Brown University was selected.
  • 1901: Acquisition of one of the earliest printed maps to use the name, "America," published by Martin Waldseemüller, ca. 1513.
  • 1904: Inaugural of the new home of the John Carter Brown Library, on the main green of the campus of Brown University. The first separate special collections library to be built on a university campus in the United States, it was opened as a semiprivate institution in May 1904. It is governed by its own independent Board of Governors, and according to the terms of the will, its collections can never be indiscriminately mingled with another.

From the guide to the John Carter Brown Library Records, 1764-1904, (bulk 1845-1889), (John Carter Brown Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf John Carter Brown Library Records, 1764-1904, (bulk 1845-1889) John Carter Brown library
creatorOf Gilberti, Maturino, 1498-1585. Siguense unos breves sermones en la lengua de Michuacan para cada domingo del año : fundados sobre un thema aunque por diversas materias / ordenados por el Pe. F. Mathurino Gilberti, fraile menor en la dicha provincia. Newberry Library
referencedIn Natalie Bayard Brown papers, Brown (Natalie Bayard) Papers, (bulk 1897-1950), 1877-1950 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn Mary Hyde Eccles papers, 1853-2005, (bulk) 1939-2003. Houghton Library
referencedIn Rosamond B. Loring collection of decorated papers, ca. 1500-ca. 1950. Houghton Library
creatorOf Pozarenco, Juan. Vocabulario de la lengua c̦oque. Newberry Library
referencedIn Henry Raup Wagner papers, 1917-1962, 1930-1952 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Gilberti, Maturino, 1498-1585. [Vocabulario tarasco-castellano]. Newberry Library
creatorOf Guzmán, Pantaleón de, 1652?-ca. 1708. Libro yntitulado Compendio de nombres en lengua cakchiquel : y significados de verbos por ymperativo y aculativos reciprocos en doce tratados / por el Pe. Predicadr. F. Pantaleon de Guzman; cura doctrinero por el real patronato deesta doctrina y curato de Santa Maria de Jesus Pache; en veinte dias del mes de octubre, de mil setecientos y quatro años. Newberry Library
creatorOf Rosenbach Company. Correspondence, 1903-1953 Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Hacke, William. An accurate description of all the harbours ... in the South Sea of America : ms., [undated]. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Swan Antarctic Collection (Brown University). The Bradford F. Swan Antarctic Collection in the John Hay Library, Brown University. Brown University, Brown University Library
creatorOf Le Boulanger, Jean Baptiste, 1685-1740. [French and Miami-Illinois dictionary]. Newberry Library
referencedIn Anne S. Kinsolving Brown papers, Brown (Anne. S. Kinsolving), 1912-1985 Brown University Library, Special Collections
creatorOf Ciudad Real, Antonio de, 1551-1617. [Maya-Spanish and Spanish-Maya dictionary : the Diccionario de Motul]. Newberry Library
referencedIn Pew Charitable Trusts. Grant products reports, 1988-2002. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Non-Monetary Gift Files, Brown University Non-Monetary Gift files, 1947-1972 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn Eames, Charles Wilberforce. Letter, 1929, December 1, New York, to Mr. Harper. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
creatorOf Vico, Domingo de, d. 1555. Bocabulario en lengua cakchiquel y quiche o tlatecas. Newberry Library
creatorOf Basalenque, Diego, 1577-1651. Arte de la lengua matlaltzinga mui copioso y assi mismo una suma y arte abreviado / compuesto todo por el padre maestro fray Diego Basalenque de la orden de nuestro padre S. Augustín de la provincia de Michoacán : anno 1640. Newberry Library
referencedIn John Nicholas Brown (1861-1900) papers, Brown (John Nicholas) (1861-1900) papers, (bulk 1881-1900), 1871-1900 John Hay Library, Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Basalenque, Diego, 1577-1651. person
associatedWith Brown, Anne S. Kinsolving person
associatedWith Brown, John Nicholas, 1861-1900 person
associatedWith Brown, Natalie Bayard, 1869-1950 person
associatedWith Brown University. corporateBody
associatedWith Ciudad Real, Antonio de, 1551-1617. person
associatedWith Eames, Charles Wilberforce. person
associatedWith Eccles, Mary Hyde. person
associatedWith Gilberti, Maturino, 1498-1585. person
associatedWith Guzmán, Pantaleón de, 1652?-ca. 1708. person
associatedWith Hacke, William. person
associatedWith Le Boulanger, Jean Baptiste, 1685-1740. person
associatedWith Loring, Rosamond B. (Rosamond Bowditch), 1889-1950 person
associatedWith Pew Charitable Trusts. corporateBody
associatedWith Pozarenco, Juan. person
associatedWith Rosenbach Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Swan Antarctic Collection (Brown University) corporateBody
associatedWith Vico, Domingo de, d. 1555. person
associatedWith Wagner, Henry Raup, 1862-1957 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
John Carter Brown Library

Corporate Body

Active 1903

Active 1953





Ark ID: w6v22x5f

SNAC ID: 87526098