Reprinted from Williams, J. R. The Handbook of Princeton. N. Y., 1905.




University Library, a Sesquicentennial gift from the late Mrs. Percy Rivington Pyne. Before describing the two buildings which together contain the library of the University, a short account of the origin and growth of this great collection of books may be of interest.


The library undoubtedly began with the College itself. The first mention of it is found in a minute of the Trustees, dated September 26, 1750, authorizing President Burr to purchase a book-case for the use of the College. When Nassau Hall was built a few years later it contained a spacious library-room, planned on so ample a scale that when Congress met there in 1783 it was found to be nearly as large as the room which they had occupied in Philadelphia. In 1760 the College was possessed of a collection of about 1,200 volumes, many of which had been given by Governor Belcher. When Witherspoon came over from Scotland in 1768 he brought with him some 300 volumes presented by "sundry friends abroad" and gladdened the Trustees with the news that he was expecting "another considerable collection of books." Witherspoon also brought with him a young Scotsman, one Hugh Sim, whom he recommended as "a person of singular ingenuity and merit and well qualified to serve the interests of the College" in the offices of Librarian and Inspector of Rooms. Sim received these appointments and was paid a yearly salary of "five pounds together with his commons in College." He appears to have been the first regularly appointed Librarian.

The outbreak of the Revolution proved a sore blow to the College in more ways than one. The old building was despoiled by friend and foe alike; books were carried away wholesale by the soldiers of Cornwallis and some of them were afterwards recovered in far away South Carolina. After the war a contemporary tells us that "what was left did not deserve the name of a library." No sooner, however, had the process of recuperation again furnished the College with a suitable library than the great fire of 1802 swept it away in the space of a few hours. Of over 3,000 volumes but a bare 100 were saved, and yet, such was the perseverance and untiring energy which these founders of the library displayed, that in less than two years they had once more gathered together a collection of some 4,000 volumes. In this undertaking they were most generously assisted by friends at home and abroad, and particularly by Dr. Willard, President of Harvard College, through whose influence Massachusetts contributed 744 volumes, a much greater number than any other state.

During the next half century the library grew with the increasing power and influence of the College. In 1839 it numbered 8,000 volumes; in 1856, 9,313; and in 1868, about 14,000 volumes, as yet without a separate building or an adequate endowment. In 1839 it numbered 8,000 volumes; in 1856, 9,313; and in 1868, about 14,000 volumes, as yet without a separate building or an adequate endowment. In 1868 Mr. John C. Green, a benefactor of the institution in many ways, created the Elizabeth fund for the purchase of books, which yields $3,000 a year, and shortly afterward erected a library building which he named in honor of Chancellor Henry Woodhull Green, of the Class of 1820. Prior to 1868 the only considerable gift of money which the library had received was a legacy of $1,000 left by President James Madison, a pupil of Witherspoon's. The interest which Mr. Green and the members of his family have taken in the welfare of the library accounts very largely for its rapid growth during the last forty years; in this period it has grown from 14,000 volumes to 185,000 at the present day. The renewed interest awakened in the library through the gift of a magnificent new building in 1896 is undoubtedly responsible for the great increase in recent years, the gain during the last decade alone exceeding 90,000 volumes. The total number of bound volumes, exclusive of duplicates, now in the library, is 185,000, and there are in addition some 50,000 unbound periodicals, pamphlets, and manuscripts. The present yearly rate of accession is approximately 10,000 volumes.


The two buildings, the Chancellor Green Library and the New Library Building, which has been architecturally combined with it, together form the University Library. The Chancellor Green Library, a gift from Mr. John C. Green, was erected in 1872 at a cost of $120,000. It consists of a central octagon connected by passageways with two wings of similar form, the extreme length from wing to wing being 160 feet. The central octagon, 64 feet in diameter and 50 feet in height, was originally planned to provide a shelving space for 100,000 volumes. When, upon the occasion of the Sesquicentennial, provision was made by a friend of the University for a new building with space for 1,200,000 volumes, the Chancellor Green building, long crowded beyond its calculated capacity, was found to be admirably adapted to the uses of a working library, and has since then been refitted throughout with the most modern system of heating, lighting, and ventilation.

The New Library Building, which forms the eastern side of the quadrangle, was erected in 1897 at a cost of $650,000 and is one of the largest and most splendidly equipped college libraries in the country. It is constructed form Longmeadow stone in the Gothic style of Oxford, and is connected with the Chancellor Green building by a main entrance hallway in which are located the card catalogues and the delivery desk. The northern and southern wings, known as the "stacks," contain shelving space for 500,000 volumes each, the total estimated capacity of the united buildings being about 1,250,000 volumes. In the eastern and western wings are the administration rooms and the seminaries, --rooms furnished with special libraries and set apart for the purposes of advanced study. Ornamenting the western tower are the statues of President Witherspoon, President McCosh, James Madison, of the Class of 1771, Richard Stockton, of the Class of 1748, and Oliver Ellsworth, of the Class of 1766. The designs for the Library were prepared by William A. Potter, of New York, the architect of Alexander Hall and of other Princeton buildings.

Entering the Library, the visitor will find in the hallway which connects the two buildings the author and subject catalogues and the delivery desk where account is taken of the books that are borrowed and those returned. On the left is the Chancellor Green building, recently refitted as a reading room, containing the standard and latest works in all departments and especially adapted to the purposes of study. Here may be found a collection of some forty thousand volumes, chiefly those in general circulation, and a very complete list of the best periodicals. The desk of the Reference Librarian, whose office is to assist investigators to the sources for their work, is also here. This desk is connected by telephone with all parts of the Library so that any book in the stacks may be sent for and delivered at the reader's table. In the western wing is the meeting room of the Trustees of the University; opposite in the eastern wing are the offices of the Dean of the Graduate School and the Secretary of the University. The Trustees' room is open to visitors except on the days of stated meeting.

The exhibition room, across the hallway in the new building, contains the following special collections:

The Morgan Collection of Virgils, presented by Junius S. Morgan, Esq., '88. This fine collection includes many rare and valuable editions and is the largest of its kind in this country and one of the largest in the world. Among its treasures is the first edition of Virgil, the editio princeps, printed at Rome in 1469 and one of the rarest books in existence. Another famous volume in the collection is Grolier's own copy of the poet, printed and bound by him in 1541. The collection numbers in all some 659 volumes and is valued at more than $50,000.

The William Horace Morse Collection of Japanese netsukes (small carvings), comprising 475 examples, the great majority of which are in ivory. This collection, valued at $10,000, is a gift to the University from the family of the late William Horace Morse, and is now temporarily exhibited in the Library.

The Hutton Collection of Death Masks, presented to the University in 1897 b the late Laurence Hutton. This unique collection of "portraits in plaster" is the largest and finest in the world and the only one, in fact, that may be dignified by the term collection.

Mr. Hutton became interested in death masks in the early sixties, when he was then living in New York. One afternoon in a bookstore he saw a mask of Benjamin Franklin that had been found in an ash barrel on Second Avenue and on exploring this barrel discovered another mask of Franklin, one of Wordsworth, one of Scott, and one of Cromwell, also casts from the skulls of Robert Bruce and Robert Burns. With these Mr. Hutton's collection was begun. The mask of Dean Swift is the only one in existence. It was originally the property of Trinity College, Dublin, but was stolen from the College Library in 1853. A large reward was offered for its return, but nothing was ever heard of it. Several years ago Mr. Hutton came across this rare mask under a pile of rubbish in an old curiosity shop in London. The most valuable mask in the collection is that of Sir Isaac Newton. It was made by Roubilliac and is one of the two in existence. The original is in the rooms of the Royal Society, at Burlington House, London. The collection numbers in all some seventy-four masks.

In addition to these collections there are many other things of interest in the exhibition room. Against the eastern partition and near the entrance hangs the Doctor of Laws diploma conferred upon James Madison by the College in 1787. About the walls are the framed congratulatory letters, from institutions of both the old and the new world, addressed to the University upon the occasion of the celebration of her one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. Among the portraits now in the exhibition room may be noted one of Judge William Paterson of the class of 1763, a framer of the Consitution and one of Princeton's most noted sons, which faces the entrance from the south wall, bequeathed by his grandson, Judge William Paterson of class 1835; a portrait of ex-President Francis Landey Patton, by John W. Alexander, west wall; and one of James Ormsbee Murray, first Dean of the University, north wall. In one of the cases near the entrance may be seen an interesting collection of Princetoniana, including the Madison family Bible which records the birth of James Madison; the original manuscript copy of Madison's speech, delivered upon the occasion of his inauguration as President of the United States, March 4, 1809; President Edward's Hebrew Bible; a manuscript sermon in the autograph of President Burr; and an exhibit of early College publications. In another case at the farther end of the room is an exhibit of letters and publications relating to Aaron Burr, the younger, of the class of 1772. The large case against the western wall contains in part a series of autographs of many of the early presidents of the College, as well as those of some of her more noted sons, and a set of the exquisitely printed publications of the Grolier Club. The cases in the central part of the room at present contain an interesting collection of Babylonian and Assyrian seals and tablets, and those against the southern wall an exhibit of early illuminated texts and manuscripts, and papyri.

Upon public occasions, such as Commencement and the days of the big games, it is customary to allow a limited number of persons, accompanied by a guide, the privilege of visiting the stacks and the tower. From the tower a splendid view may be had of the University grounds and buildings, the town of Princeton, and the surrounding country, which will fully compensate the visitor for the fatigues of the ascent.

In descending to the main floor the visitor will have an opportunity of examining the construction of the great book-cases or "stacks." These stacks, built after the Library Bureau's system, consist of five stories, each story being seven and one-half feet high. The construction is of iron, steel, and glass, except the shelves, which are of wood. The stacks are practically a solid unit from the bottom to the top of the building, each book-case being circled by the glass "decks" which form the floors and which permit of an equal diffusion of light. These decks do not extend quite to the side walls, thus allowing a free circulation of air which is furnished by forced ventilation, thereby insuring an even temperature in different parts of the building. The stacks are built upon what is known as the "open end" system, by which the shelves are supported upon brackets instead of resting on pins or bars at each end. By means of a set-screw, they may be easily adjusted at any desired height. Wood has been used for the shelves because polished metal was found to be too slippery, or when roughened, too wearing on the books. The light and graceful structure of the open end system, the white enamel and glass, and the admirable amount of light, have produced an exceptionally attractive stack from the technical standpoint.

In the basement below the main hallway is located the printing and binding room, where under skilful direction the work of the Library in these departments is being most successfully carried on. A glimpse of this room may be had from the ground floor of the stack. In addition to those already enumerated, the building contains some forty rooms, ten of which are devoted to the purposes of administration, sixteen to seminary work, and fourteen to machinery and other uses. The administration rooms, not generally open to visitors, are located in the northeastern corner. They include rooms for the Librarian and for the ordering and cataloguing departments.

The seminary rooms for advanced study and instruction in the methods of research are a special feature of the new Library. They are primarily intended for the graduate student and within their quiet bounds a majority of the graduate courses offered in the University are conducted. They are provided with special libraries and are separately endowed. Although not usually open to visitors, the seminaries may be seen during vacation by securing permission at the desk.

Among the special collections in the Library, not before enumerated, are the following:

The Pierson Civil War Collection, presented by John S. Pierson, Esq., '40, numbering 4,671 volumes, 1,500 bound periodicals, 2,500 unbound periodicals, and including also several thousand clippings. The second largest collection of books and papers relating ot the Civil War in this country. Location: stack, fourth floor.

The Pyne-Henry Collection of Manuscripts relating to the history of the University, presented by M. Taylor Pyne, Esq., '77, and Hon. Bayard Henry, '76. 1,356 documents. Location: Chancellor Green Library.

The Princeton University Collection, including the large collection of Princetoniana presented by Professor William Libbery, '77. 3,535 volumes. Location: stack, fourth floor.

The Garrett Collection of Oriental Manuscripts, consisting of 1,770 documents, chiefly in Arabic, deposited for the present in the University Library. Location: Northwestern corner, second floor, left.

The Garret Collection of Coins, deposited in the Library by Robert Garret, Esq., '95. This collection, embracing also specimens from many foreign countries, contains one of the most complete series of American coins in the country. It also includes a number of medals commemorative of notable historic events and persons.

Access may be had to these collections only by special permission of the Librarian. The building is open from 8 A.M. until 10 P.M. during term time, and from 9 A.M. until 1 P.M. in vacation.


 Last modified 08-May-2005