The Acquisition of Books by Chetham's Library, 1655-1700


Chetham's Library, Manchester, was founded in 1655 by the bequest of the Manchester merchant, Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653). Drawing on recent debates about the methods of book history, this book is a detailed study of the way in which an early modern provincial library was created, stocked with books and administered. Using extensive archival research into the Library's acquisitions and the trade in books and ideas in the later seventeenth century, Yeo examines the motivations behind the Library's foundation, the beliefs of those responsible for the selection of books and the Library's relationship with the London bookseller Robert Littlebury. The result is a refreshing reinterpretation of provincial intellectual culture and the workings of the early modern trade in books and ideas.

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EUR €120.00USD $150.00

Biographical Note

Matthew Yeo studied Modern History at St Catherine's College, Oxford and at Princeton University. His PhD, completed at the University of Manchester in 2009, was on the acquisition of books by Chetham's Library, Manchester, between 1655 and 1700. He now teaches History at Charterhouse, Surrey.

Review Quotes

“an impressive and laudable achievement … Yeo’s book, handsomely produced and elegantly written, is a significant and admirable contribution to his subject. More than 300 years ago, one visitor acclaimed Chetham’s as ‘better than any library in Cambridge’. This study goes a long way towards explaining why he and others were so impressed.”
Mark Purcell, National Trust. In: European Review of History, Vol. 20, No. 3 (2013), pp. 504-505.

"This book covers much more ground than its title would suggest. It provides interesting new perspectives on the book trade during the seventeenth century, and on the relationship of booksellers to libraries."
Brandon High, King’s College London. In: CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group Newsletter, No. 92, July 2012, pp. 27-78.

"Reading this book is not just to learn about Chetham’s Library, but also to be called to think about what is important about historic books and libraries, and what we can learn from them by looking from many angles. In summary, therefore: this is an excellent book whose contribution to scholarship goes far beyond the narrative account that its title might be thought to imply. Certainly, it should be of interest to early modernists of many persuasions and should be on the shelves of any library which supports serious study in such fields."
David Pearson, City of London. In: Library & Information History, Vol. 28, No. 1 (March 2012), pp. 62-63.

Table of contents

Figures and Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgements
Citations and Names

Chapter I: The Foundation of Chetham’s Library
‘As for Manchester… there is a fair library of books’
The Creation of a Public Library
If Books be the Spectacles we see through to all Learning
Humphrey Chetham: ‘Manchester’s first great philanthropist’
‘There to remaine as a publick Library for ever…’
Chetham’s Library and the History of the Book
The Problems of Use

Chapter II: The Selection of Texts by Chetham’s Library
‘By the discretion of the said Richard Johnson…’
‘Likely to be a mercy to this place’: Nicholas Stratford as Warden
The Process of Selection
‘not ye last but the most Correct Edition.’
Preserving the Best Editions Available
An Overview of the Collection
The Choice of Bookseller

Chapter III: Robert Littlebury and the Sale of Books
The Flow of Ideas: from the Thames to Amazon
The London Book Trade in the 1650s
Robert Littlebury and the Acquisition of Second-Hand Books
Robert Littlebury and the Latin Trade
Robert Littlebury as a Publisher
The Delivery of Books
The Need to Keep Stock Moving
The Acquisition of ‘Bound Books’ by Chetham’s Library
The Impact of the Great Fire of London
Reciprocity in the Book Trade: Littlebury, Holdsworth, Firmin and Stratford
The Transition from London to Manchester
‘Mr Littlebury who is our standard for knowing Authors’

Chapter IV: The Reception of Theology at Chetham’s Library
A Useful Theological Library
Forging an Anglican Identity through Patristic texts
The Usefulness of Continental and British Theology
Calvin, Calvinism and Calvinists
In Defence of the Church of England: Arminianism and Socinianism
The Shift from Calvinism to Latitudinarianism
‘The Wisdom of the East’: Hebraica
E Societate Iesu: The Reception of Jesuit Texts
‘being very rare to see soe many of these’
The Trouble with Gifts
Usefulness in Defence of the Church of England

Chapter V: The Acquisition of Classics, History and Law
Healing and Settling the Past: Different Patterns of Acquisition
The Ars Excerpendi: Classical Texts and Classical Literature
‘infinit benefit’: History at Chetham’s Library
The Formation of Anglican Identity after the Civil War
Law Books at Chetham’s Library
The Book Trade in the Formation and Distribution of Historical Knowledge

Chapter VI: Natural Philosophy and ‘Useful’ Texts
The History of the Book and the History of Science
The Relationship between Print and Natural Philosophy
Natural Philosophy from the Outset: Scientific titles 1655-1661
Step-by-Step: Science and Religious Moderation, 1661-1700
Reciprocity in the Scientific Book Trade
The Problems of Scientific Reception
Scientific Instruments and Differing Forms of Natural Philosophy
Scientific Books outside the Stationers’ Company
Science, Book and Scientific Instrument

Conclusion: Reading has a History
Towards a History of the Second Hand Book Trade
Preservation for the Future


All those interested in the history of early modern libraries, the reception of texts in the English provinces, as well as students of the early modern book trade.

Index Card

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