James Logan, Colonial Bibliophile and Bookman for the Library Company of Philadelphia
James Logan (1674-1751), a Scottish Quaker, was a scholar, scientist, entrepreneur, and public servant. In 1699, Logan left England as an agent for William Penn and eventually settled in Philadelphia. Logan would eventually become mayor of Philadelphia, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, lieutenant governor, and acting governor. He is perhaps best known, however, for being a bibliophile, confessing once that “Books are my disease” (Basbanes, 1995, p. 130). Some commentators consider Logan’s library to be the largest and best collection of classical writings in America (Wolf, 1955; Farren, 1976).
Logan would in time become known to Benjamin Franklin and his “Junto”, an influential group of friends that would meet weekly and discuss scholarly and political issues. Eventually, the Junto decided to establish a subscription library, a cooperative endeavor where members would pay a fee for use of the library (Sable, 1987). Franklin and the other members of the Junto considered Logan the “best Judge of Books in these parts” (Wolf, 1967, p. 33) and chose him to select the first 43 titles for the library (Sable, 1987, p. 32).
At the same time Logan was helping to build the collection for the Library Company of Philadelphia, he was adding to his own personal library which was considered substantial in number and breadth (Wolf, 1967, p. 33; Sable, 1987, p. 32). He planned on donating his library for public use after his death and to this end he had a building constructed on Sixth Street in Philadelphia (Sable, 1987, p. 32). Upon Logan’s death, and after a lengthy delay due to some confusion in his will, through an act of the Pennsylvania Assembly and the governor on Mar. 31, I792, the 3,953 volumes and other property of the Loganian Library were "vested in the Library Company of Philadelphia, their successors and assigns, for ever, in trust for the support and increase of the said Loganian Library." (Wolf, 1956, p. 349, fn. 32).
The Loganian Library, as he wished it to be called (Basbanes, 1995, p. 135), was diverse. The catalog of its final holdings is now lost but a partial inventory done in 1760 reveals a wide selection of books (Wolf, 1967, p. 35). The book distribution by date reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Most were from the seventeenth century with 57 percent. Next came those from the eighteenth century at 27 percent. Finally, there was a good number from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries at 16 percent. The collection was mostly British and northern European with 33 percent from Britain; the Netherlands, 24 percent; Germany, 17 percent; France, 13 percent; Switzerland, 9 percent; Italy, 2 percent; and others (Scandinavia, Spain, Poland, Russia, America) at 2 percent (Farren, 1976).
The distribution of the books by subject in the 1760 catalog is equally diverse with history, antiquities, geography, chronology, etc. at 22 percent. Religious subjects of divinity and ecclesiastical history constituted 15 percent. Scientific subjects such as “physick,” “mathematicks”, and natural history was at 16 percent. Literary subjects such as orators, poets, fables, romances, etc. at 14 percent with philology at 13 percent. Philosophy, surprisingly, was only 6 percent while arts, liberal and mechanical, “magick,” etc. was 3 percent. The remaining subjects were as follows: medicine, surgery, and “chymistry,” 2 percent; law, 2 percent; voyages and travels, 1 percent; philosophical history, 1 percent, and miscellaneous, 5 percent (Farren, 1976).
Logan’s library contained many 17th and 16th century classical works such as a 1615 edition of Archimedes’ works, the mathematical treatise of Pappus of Alexandria printed in 1660, an Aratus of Soles from 1672, Elzevir’s architecture publication of 1649 from Amsterdam, Johann Vossius’ De Quatuar Artibus Popularibus published in 1650, and a 1599 edition of astronomy edited by Barthelemy Pitiscus (Wolf, 1967, pp. 35-37). In one famous episode, Logan was reading a treatise on early astronomy by Johann Fabricius and read that the first printed edition of Greek astronomer Ptolemy’s Almagest was printed in Greek in1538. Logan was certain that it was released in an earlier Latin version, having sold it and his other books in Dublin before he left in 1699. Logan wrote Fabricius and politely explained his conviction. In reply, Fabricius reaffirmed his contention and sent his own 1538 copy as proof. Unconvinced, Logan wrote his agent in London, explaining that he had sold his library to a bookseller who lived on Castle Street and to see if he knew of the book’s location. His agent was successful in finding the book and sent to Logan where it was confirmed that it was a Latin edition of the Almagest published in 1515 (Basbanes, 1995, pp. 132-133). Such was the strength of Logan’s bibliographic mind as professed by Benjamin Franklin.
Basbanes, N. (1995). A gentle madness. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
Farren, D. (1976). The library of James Logan of Philadelphia, 1674-1751 by Edwin Wolf [book review]. The library quarterly, 46:65-69.
Sable, M. H. (1987). The Library Company of Philadelphia: Historical survey, bibliography, chronology. International library review, 18:29-46.
Wolf, E. (1955). The early buying policy of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Wilson library quarterly, 55: 316-318.
Wolf, E. (1956). The romance of James Logan's Books. The William and Mary quarterly, 3: 342-353.
Wolf, E. (1967). James Logan, Bookman Extraordinary. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 79:33-46