The Providence Athenæum has been the recipient of many rare editions and collections since its founding. The Private Library Collection contains three substantial gifts that represent gentlemen’s libraries from the nineteenth century in Providence, including John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886), Holder Borden Bowen (1844-1912), and Joseph J. Cooke (1813-1881).
The John Russell Bartlett Collection is a collection of 400 volumes and numerous pamphlets that were donated to the Providence Athenæum by the heirs of John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886) in 1914. The collection contains several publications by Bartlett, including an unpublished scrapbook documenting the development of the Atlantic Telegraph and numerous biographies, travels, histories, and works on ethnology as well as Rhode Island history. Many of the titles in his collection are signed by Bartlett and contain his personal annotations and correspondence.
The Holder Borden Bowen Collection numbers some 2,000 volumes rich in books of folklore, memoirs, seventeenth and eighteenth-century travel and exploration, pirates and highwaymen, as well as dueling, wine, and card playing. Additionally, many of the bindings in this collection are noteworthy, and each title is plated with Bowen’s handsome personal bookplate.
The Joseph J. Cooke Bequest Collection was acquired by the library in 1883. Cooke, a successful businessman and dry-goods merchant, started collecting books only ten years prior to his death, at which time the collection contained over 20,000 volumes. The Providence Athenæum acquired 959 volumes at auction, including two illuminated manuscripts and several early nineteenth-century handsomely printed titles from the Lee Priory in Kent, England. The original three volume auction catalog with marginalia is included in the collection.