NYPL Archives Record Group 2 consists of the records of the Lenox Library, a non-circulating research library founded by James Lenox (1800-1880) in New York City in 1870. In 1895 the Lenox Library was consolidated with the Astor Library and the Tilden Trust to form The New York Public Library.
Biographical/historical: The Lenox Library grew out of the private book collection of James Lenox (1800-1880). Lenox, a lifelong bachelor of Scottish Presbyterian descent, inherited a large fortune from his father's commercial import business augmented by astute real estate investments. In 1840 Lenox retired from business to oversee his investments and devote himself to his true passions: bibliography and his book and art collections. With a genuine sense of philanthropic spirit Lenox decided to create a "public" library. In 1870 the act of incorporation was passed, a nine member board of trustees chosen, and plans were begun for a library building to house the collections held in Lenox's home. The architect selected was Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) and the site (given by Lenox) was Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st streets in Manhattan. Construction continued for seven years until the first public exhibition was held in 1877.
In 1872 Lenox's friend and fellow bibliophile, George Henry Moore (1823-1892), formerly librarian of the New York Historical Society, became the Lenox Library's first Superintendent while also serving as a member of the board of trustees. An Americana specialist and noted bibliographer, Moore was responsible for the publication of short title lists and the Lenox catalog: Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library of which there were six volumes. Moore also was directly involved with almost every aspect of the operations of the Library, from annual reports to individual admission tickets.
In 1885 Wilberforce Eames (1855-1937) came to work for Moore as a private assistant. In 1892 Eames became assistant librarian, replacing the current librarian, S.A. Alibone, who retired. Eames, with little formal schooling, taught himself several languages and had become a highly accomplished bibliographer. After Lenox and Moore, Eames was the third dominant force in the history of the Lenox Library.
While both free and open to the public, the Lenox Library required the public to apply by mail for nontransferable admission tickets which were then returned to the applicant by mail and had to be presented to gain admission to the galleries. No one was admitted without a ticket. This policy, along with the fact that not only was the library non-circulating, but that most of its holdings were for display purposes only, led to a great deal of public antipathy towards the library. Especially in the press, the Lenox was regularly vilified as elitist and unwelcoming. For their part, the Lenox trustees had based their admission policy on the British Museum's system and given the rarity of their holdings saw nothing wrong with it. Perhaps part of the problem arose from the general perception that the term "Free Public Library" meant different things to different people. According to Charles Ammi Cutter, "Every librarian knows that the Lenox Museum as it should have been called, was not intended to be a free circulating library for the poor of New York, nor even a library of reference for the literary man anxious to throw off a magazine article...in the quickest possible time... One might as well complain that the Zoological Museum does not give up its stuffed birds to furnish Christmas dinners to the poor."
After the death of James Lenox in 1880, the Library continued to expand its holdings, mainly through gift and bequest. The library dropped its admission ticket policy in 1887 and made its book collections more accessible to scholars. While these and other liberalisms improved its public image somewhat, the trustees were growing increasingly concerned about their long-term financial viability. When, in the Spring of 1894, the Astor Library trustees began merger talks with the Tilden Trust, the Lenox trustees joined the discussions. The consolidation of the three in 1895 formed a new corporation: The New York Public Library.
Lenox Library Chronology 1800 James Lenox Born 1818 Graduated Columbia College 1821 Master's Degree Columbia/Princeton 1826 Joined father's import business 1840 Retired from business, residence at 53 Fifth Avenue. Began serious collecting. 1870 January 20 Lenox Library incorporated; 9 member Board of Trustees including Aaron B. Belknap, Secretary. 1870 March 15 Received endowment of $300,000 from James Lenox. 1870 April 17 Received deed for future library site: 5th Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets. Richard Morris Hunt chosen as architect. 1871 May Foundation laid. Additional $100,000 given by Lenox. 1872 October 3 George Henry Moore elected Trustee and appointed Superintendent of Library. 1876 Partial transfer of book and art collection from residence to new Lenox Library. 1877 First Library exhibition, paintings and sculpture only. Construction continues, Library open 2 days weekly. Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volume 1, Voyages of Hulsius published. 1878 November Gift of Duyckinck collection: 15,000 volumes, plus additional quantity of pamphlets and manuscripts. 1878 March 6 Samuel A. Allibone appointed Librarian. 1879 Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volumes 2-4 published. 1880 February 17 James Lenox dies. 1880 March Robert Lenox Kennedy (nephew) elected president of Board of Trustees. 1880 June 4 Aaron B. Belknap dies. 1880 Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volume 5 published. 1881 Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library, volume 6 published. 1884 Astoin collection gift: 5,000 volumes on French bibliography. 1885 Wilberforce Eames hired as assistant to Superintendant Moore. 1886 July 6 Henrietta Lenox dies. Her will leaves $100,000 for purchase of books, as well as deed to land adjacent to Library with restrictions on future use. 1887 Use of admission tickets discontinued. 1887 October 6 Library notifies Alibone that his job will end on May 1, 1888 due to lack of funds. 1892 Stuart Collection bequest of 12,000 volumes and 240 paintings. 1892 May 5 George Henry Moore dies. 1892 October 7 Eames appointed Assistant Librarian, retroactive to May 1. 1893 June 3 Eames appointed Librarian. 1893 The library of George Bancroft purchased for $84,492. Collection comprises 15,000 volumes, 5,000 pamphlets, 486 manuscripts. 1894 Emmet newspaper collection purchased. 1895 The New York Public Library is incorporated. Lenox Library building continues in use as division of the New York Public Library. 1896 Emmet manuscript and book collection given by John S. Kennedy. 1911 March 18 - April 12 Lenox collections moved to central building. Lenox Library building closed. 1912 Lenox building formally turned over to Henry Clay Frick, who had purchased it in 1906. 1912 July Building demolished.
Content: The records of the Lenox Library span the years 1866-1915, with the bulk dating from 1870-1895. They document the founding and operation of the Library, including rare book purchases from Europe and America, reader's statistics, and general library administration. The records consist of handwritten, typed and printed documents, loose and in volumes.
A small number of items date from after the 1895 consolidation of the Lenox Library with the Astor Library and Tilden Trust to form The New York Public Library. After consolidation, NYPL Director John Shaw Billings established his office in the Astor Library building. The Lenox Library was administered, by Wilberforce Eames, as a self-contained research branch of the NYPL up to the move into the new Central Building in 1911. At that time part of the Lenox collection was kept intact to form the American History Division with Eames as its first chief.