New York Society Library: First Charging Ledger (1789-1792)

The Library’s earliest surviving charging ledger, which records borrowing activity during July 1789-April 1792, is a window into the reading habits of over five hundred members of the Society Library, many of whom were prominent New Yorkers.

At the time, no other public library existed in the city, and a membership in the Society Library was an affordable alternative to purchasing scarce and expensive books, many of which were shipped from overseas. The ledger shows senators and governors sharing books with merchants, coffee shop owners, and other working men and women of New York City and its surrounding areas.

The digital images on this website provide for closer analysis of the fragile document. Because 18th-century handwriting is often difficult to decipher, and the ledger entries contain misspellings, errors, abbreviations, omissions, ink spills, lost fragments, and other inconsistencies, the provided transcriptions and the following informational guide are intended to be an aid to interpretation.