The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Astor Library

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The American Cyclopædia
Astor Library
Edition of 1879. See also Astor Library on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ASTOR LIBRARY, an institution founded under the will of John Jacob Astor, who bequeathed $400,000 “for the establishment of a public library in the city of New York.” By a provision of the will, the government of the library was vested in 11 trustees, in whose keeping were placed all the property and effects of the institution; in them existed all power to invest and expend the funds, and to manage the affairs of the library. Among the first trustees named by the testator were Washington Irving, William B. Astor, Joseph G. Cogswell, Fitz-Greene Halleck, besides five other gentlemen, and the mayor of New York and the chancellor of the state ex officio. By a subsequent codicil, Charles Astor Bristed, the testator's grandson, was appointed an additional trustee. A provision of the will designated, as the land whereon to erect a suitable building for the purposes of the library, a lot situated upon the east side of Lafayette place, measuring 80 ft. in front by 120 ft. deep. As early as 1839 Mr. Astor had purchased a number of volumes, aided by Dr. Cogswell, with the ultimate intention expressed in his will. In May, 1848, the trustees of the library met for the first time, and in accordance with the desire of Mr. Astor, appointed Dr. Cogswell superintendent. He went to Europe in the autumn of 1848, authorized to purchase books to the amount of $20,000. During an absence of four months he collected 20,000 volumes, which were temporarily placed in a building rented for the purpose. A second and third visit by the superintendent increased the number of volumes to 70,000, with which the first building was opened, Jan. 9, 1854. The Astor library is built in the Byzantine style of architecture, richly ornamented with brown stone mouldings and an imposing entablature. Its dimensions are in accordance with Mr. Astor's will, the height being about 70 ft. The library room is 100 ft. in length by 64 in width, and 50 in height; this is reached by a flight of 36 marble steps. The lower rooms are chiefly used for the deposit of public documents and for the meetings of the trustees. Since the erection of this building the number of volumes has increased to nearly 150,000, not quite filling the second building, which has since been erected. The books are arranged according to subjects. In the selection of books Dr. Cogswell, upon whom devolved the whole of this labor and responsibility, chose only such works as his experience and knowledge of bibliography taught him would be most useful to a young and growing country. Particular attention was paid to the department of technology, in which the library is unusually rich. Bibliography also received a large share of Dr. Cogswell's attention, his own private collection having been early added to the library. It is designed to render the department of American history as full as possible, as works of this class are more and more required by the American public. In linguistics, particularly oriental, the Astor library is unsurpassed by any in this country. The natural sciences are also fully represented, comprising about 7,000 volumes, many of them rare and costly. In January, 1856, the first building having become filled, and the necessity for more room obviously existing, Mr. William B. Astor, eldest son of the founder of the library, made a donation to the trustees of an adjacent piece of land 80 ft. wide and 120 ft. deep. Upon this a building similar to the first was erected in 1859, and formally opened to the public on the 1st of September in that year. Both edifices, capable of containing 200,000 volumes, will soon be filled. In December, 1866, William B. Astor made a further donation to the library of $50,000, $20,000 of which he directed to be expended in buying books, and the remainder to be added to the general funds of the library. The catalogue of the Astor library, as prepared by Dr. Cogswell, comprises five octavo volumes of 500 pages each, four volumes containing the alphabetical list of authors' names, the fifth the supplemental list up to 1866, and the analytical index of subjects to the whole. The present superintendent is Dr. E. R. Straznicky, formerly first assistant librarian, his two predecessors, the late Dr. Cogswell and Mr. Francis Schroeder, having resigned, the former Jan. 1, 1862, and the latter July 1, 1871.