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Phillips Circulating Library: A Brief History

PhillipsInkStampLast Tuesday, we started looking at two volumes in our collection that were formerly owned by Phillips Circulating Library. Today, a brief history of that library:

A Brief History of Phillips Circulating Library
In the late 18th century, John Phillips was a "Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Hair Dresser" doing business at 55 Arch Street in Philadelphia. In an advertisement dated November 18, 1800, Phillips announced that he had moved his business to 22 South Fourth Street where, in addition to selling items as various as gentlemen’s neck cushions, pomatum by the pound and ounce, and Church’s pectoral pills, Phillips stated that “as a repository for second hand books and odd volumes has long been wished for by many persons in this city…the subscriber [i.e. Phillips] having on hand several hundred volumes, proposes the commencement of such a plan.” This appears to be the beginnings of Phillips Circulating Library.

A month later, Phillips advertised a “Repository of Literature,” stating, in part, that his business could be a means for “holding forth a cheap means of information to the less wealthy part of the community.” Three years later, in 1803, Phillips took out an ad for his “New and Increasing Circulating Library” in which he mentions that he just received a new shipment of books from England. Additionally, the advertisement states that “He has the honor of informing his patrons that for the convenience of those who wish to study the French language, he has opened a French Circulating Library, and has selected the best novels in that Language.”  In this same ad, Phillips mentions that a catalogue “will be ready for delivery in a few days.”

By 1809, Phillips Circulating Library seemed to be doing quite well. He advertised a number of novels that he had recently received via ship from England, and mentioned that a new catalogue would be ready shortly, which suggests that his catalogue from 1803 was no longer an adequate reflection of the library’s contents. In June of 1810, Phillips relocated his library to 119 South Third St., opposite the Mansion House.

Phillips_obit A year later, however, Phillips was dead. His obituary in the July 6, 1811 Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser reads “Died, last evening, Mr. John Phillips, Librarian. His friends and Masonic brethren are invited to attend his funeral this morning, at 8 o’clock, from his late dwelling opposite the Mansion House.” It was not until I read Phillips obituary that I discovered that he was a Mason. (Image of obituary from America's Historical Newspapers.)

The story of Phillips Circulating Library doesn’t end here however. You may ask, what became of Phillips’s family and his business after his death?

Next Tuesday: Mathew Carey, the well-known Philadelphia publisher, enters the picture.

Belknap, Jeremy. The History of New-Hampshire. Volume I. : Comprehending the Events of One Complete Century from the Discovery of the River Pascataqua. Philadelphia: : Printed for the author by Robert Aitken, in Market Street, near the Coffee-House., M.DCC.LXXXIV. [1784]
Call number: RARE F 34 .B45 v.1 1784

----. The History of New-Hampshire. Volume II. : Comprehending the Events of Seventy Five Years, from MDCCXV to MDCCXC. : Illustrated by a Map. Printed at Boston, : for the author, by Isaiah Thomas, and Ebenezer T. Andrews, Faust’s Statue, no. 45, New-bury-Street., MDCCXCI. [1791]
Call number: RARE F 34 .B45 v.2 1791

Gift of Mrs. Alice Lund


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