Harvard College alumni register, annotated by Isaiah Thomas (1803)

Harvard College alumni register, annotated by Isaiah Thomas (1803)

Harvard University.Catalogus eorum qui in Universitate Harvardiana, Cantabrigiae, in republica Massachusettensi ab anno MDCXLII, ad annum MDCCCIII, alicujus gradûs laureâ donati sunt: Theologiae professores et ecclesiarum pastores literis italicis exarantur. Qui ad imum classium à caeteris, lineâ interpositâ, separantur, alibi instituti suerunt, vel apud nos gradu honorario donati. Cantabrigiae [Cambridge, Mass.]: E Universitatis Typographeo: Gulielmo Hilliard typographo. MDCCCIII. Rerumpublicarum foederatarum Americae summae potestatus anno XXVIII., [1803]. [50] p.; 22 cm. Lightly worn; a very good copy. Shaw, American bibliography, 4346.


Isaiah Thomas’s copy, with his ownership signature and annotations.


Based in Worcester, Massachusetts, Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), whose career in publishing spanned from 1756 to 1803, was the first great historian of printing in America. His extensive library formed the core of the American Antiquarian Society, which he founded in 1812. His acquisition of this title, the 1803 edition of a register of Harvard alumni since the college’s founding, dates from the first year of Thomas’s retirement from the trade. His marginalia include a note on the price (10 cents), corrections (to the Latin on the front cover, and to a name of a graduate (Benjamin Hodges), and asterisks to mark the recently deceased. Beside the entry for his old comrade-in-arms Samuel Adams (1722-1803), Harvard class of 1740, Thomas has written, rather poignantly, “d. 2 Oct. 1803.”


Since 1782, Boston publishers Thomas and John Fleet had printed seven editions of the triannual Harvard register. But in 1803, the commission was taken over by a young upstart named William Hilliard (1778-1836). Born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, Hilliard moved to Cambridge in 1800. He soon secured a virtual monopoly on Harvard’s trade, using the college’s facilities to print official publications and textbooks written by faculty as well as unrelated works under his own imprint. He would go on to found the press that would become Little, Brown & Company.


A wonderful artifact of the history of the book in America, linking the end of one illustrious career with the beginning of another.

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    Harvard College alumni register, annotated by Isaiah Thomas (1803)


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    Harvard College alumni register, annotated by Isaiah Thomas (1803)