The Redwood Library and Athenaeum, otherwise known as the oldest continuously operating lending library in America (1747), has acquired a comprehensive collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century British architecture books and building manuals from the antiquarian bookseller Charles Wood. Comprising 53 titles, the collection deepens the Librarys already significant holdings of material devoted to early modern architecture and design, one of its cornerstone collecting areas. The acquisition was made possible by a grant from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, as well as from donations from a number of local and national benefactors.
By virtue of what the Redwood is the country's oldest public Neo-Classic structure and a touchstone of the nations architectural patrimonywe are duty bound to remain a center for the study of early American architecture, said Benedict Leca, Executive Director of the Redwood Library. This collection dovetails perfectly with our existing holdings, notably the Cary Collection of supremely rare eighteenth-century pattern books, and exemplifies our commitment to the scholarly interpretation of our own building and those of colonial Newport.
Newports historic center of learning and a designated national landmark, the Redwood Library has been serving New England and beyond as a resource supporting the range of intellectual pursuit for nearly three hundred years. In a city especially known today as a hub of historic preservation, garden design and place making, the Redwood endures as a locus of research in these domains through a constellation of related collections, making this acquisition especially pertinent. The Redwoods Newport Collection, an indispensable trove when researching Newport and Aquidneck Island, comprises more than5,000 books and hundreds of archives and manuscripts. The Doris Duke Preservation Collection focuses on New England colonial and nineteenth-century architecture, with an emphasis on the preservation and restoration of both the exterior architectural structure, including windows, doors and moldings, and on interior decorative elements, such as wallpaper and textiles. The Dorrance Hamilton Gardening Collection currently holds over 500 titles of landscape architecture, classic 'how-to' guides by important historic designers, such as Geoffrey Jellicoe and Lancelot Capability Brown, as well as a number of discerning treatments of historic world gardens. The Cynthia Cary Collection, collected over decades by Mr. and Mrs. Guy Fairfax Cary, Sr., contains nearly 200 fifteenth to mid-nineteenth-century English and continental pattern books of furniture, decoration, and ornament. All of these collections are a resource for scholars from all over the world, and continue to grow through the acquisition of primary works and authoritative scholarly titles.
This outstanding collection is particularly noteworthy as it is a blend of builders manuals on one hand, and of illustrated, so-called gentlemens folios on the other, specified Benedict Leca. It gives us a window not only on period building techniques, but also on the diffusion of architectural knowledge, its styles and fashions, by way of some real rarities. The Scamozzi Mirror of Architecture, for example, was often used practically by builders and thus literally consumed; for this reason it rarely survives complete. Of appeal to the connoisseur rather than the builder is a very rare suite of nine copperplate engravings of Chinese lattice designs by William Halfpenny, with the only two other known copies at the British and Avery libraries.
Further highlights from the collection include: A number of rare manuals and pamphlets, including Henry Cooks Patent artificial slate manufactory (1786), one of only three copies listed in the National Union Catalog (NUC); Abraham Fletchers The Universal Measurer (1766), one of only six copies on OCLC; and The RUDIMENTS of Architecture or the Young Workmans Instructor (1775), one of only two known copies, the Redwoods with an eighteenth-century Boston provenance. The folios include: a copy of the now scarce pattern book produced by Abraham Swan, The British architect or the builders treasury of stair-cases (1765?) and Christopher Wren, Jr.s Parentalia: or memoirs of the family of Wrens (1750), an exceptional copy complete with the often-missing mezzotint frontis portrait of Wren.