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Chetham’s Library Accessions Register and Booksellers’ Invoices

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In the early years of its existence, the Library kept very detailed accounts of expenditure, including all of the booksellers’ invoices. This book of invoices, together with two volumes of Accessions registers are still held by the Library, and are an important source of information about the early processes of ordering, dispatching and accounting for acquisitions of books and other items.

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A good deal of money was available to Humphrey Chetham’s twenty-four trustees to acquire books for the Library, and their work in the first forty years or so resulted in what has been called ‘one of the finest collections of early modern printed books, broadsides and pamphlets in the world’ (Matthew Yeo, The Acquisition of Books by Chetham’s Library, 1655-1700). Over three thousand books (as well as globes, maps, mathematical instruments and museum curiosities) were acquired between 1655 and 1700. Each volume was recorded in the Accessions Register, which contains alphabetical lists of each consignment of books, listing author, title, distinguishing features and cost.

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Books were bought mainly from two booksellers, Robert Littlebury and Samuel Smith, both from London. Littlebury was the main supplier; a secondhand dealer, major importer of books from Continental Europe and a specialist in scientific books. His most famous customer was Robert Hooke, who visited his shop in the 1670s.

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Orders were packed in barrels or specially constructed boxes known as ‘fatts’, ready to be despatched to Manchester, a journey which took seven days. The Invoices Book contains some of the booksellers’ original invoices, detailing the cost of the books, the packaging and transport, as well as some correspondence from Smith and Littlebury.

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Together, the Accessions Register and Invoices Book paint a vivid picture of the Library’s early ordering, despatch and accounting procedures, and provide an important source of evidence for the study of the history of the book trade in the seventeenth century.