Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Very Important Private Law Library

We are delighted to have acquired two important private law library inventories in as many weeks. I unveiled last week's acquisition here. This week's addition is even more exciting. It is a list of the law and general books belonging to Joseph Growdon, Jr. (1652-1738) of Philadelphia. Growdon was a wealthy and politically powerful Quaker who served eight terms as Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly and also served as Pennsylvania's Chief Justice.

The inventory, dated 1738, is written in a very legible hand. It consists of two large folio sheets, with more than 250 law and general titles listed, including law reporters, treatises, and works on Continental and international law. The books are listed in neat columns on both sides of each sheet; each title has an evaluation in pounds sterling.

Until very recently, this manuscript was assumed to be lost. In THE BOOK CULTURE OF A COLONIAL AMERICAN CITY, Edwin Wolf wrote that Philadelphia lawyer Ralph Assheton's private law library "must have been the best there was in Philadelphia in the first half of the eighteenth century." Wolf mentioned Assheton's brother William, and then wrote "Equally elusive are the books of Joseph Growdon, jun. who was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1730. A notice after his death in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 27 July 1738 reads: 'To be SOLD, The Library of Joseph Growdon, Esq.'" Wolf continued, "A catalogue of these and his other books could be seen in the care of his executrix; no copy of it exists. . . Growdon's library must have been extensive."

Nearly three centuries after it was written, Growdon's library catalogue has resurfaced and now resides in our Rare Book Room, awaiting further study and research. We are so pleased it is here!

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