Browse a list of the books from John Bigelow’s personal library that were donated to Union College by his descendants in the mid-twentieth century along with his correspondence files. The more than 4000 books at Union are believed to be the largest remaining portion of the collection that Bigelow once housed in his library at The Squirrels, his home in Highland Falls, New York. Bigelow also kept an extensive library at his New York City brownstone in Gramercy Park. During his lifetime some estimates put Bigelow’s total collection at over 15,000 volumes including manuscripts, pamphlets, and monographs. He is known to have dispersed a number of these items late in his life to some of the cultural institutions in New York City which he supported, including the Morgan Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Creating his library was a life-long passion for Bigelow. He acquired most of the works himself, keeping careful note of many of his purchases in his diary. Others were contributed by their authors, friends, or family members. The collection at Union reflects the broad range of Bigelow’s interests and associations during the course of what he himself called “an active life.” Materials on religion, philosophy, politics, history, and travel dominate, but literary works and resources on many other topics are also included. Nearly half of the titles at Union are in German or French, in which Bigelow was fluent. The earliest titles in the collection, however – a pamphlet on law in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy published in 1569 and the collected works of the classical scholar, educator, and authoress Olympia Fulvia Morata published in 1570 – are in Italian and Latin, respectively. A few early-twentieth century works in areas of interest were also added to Bigelow’s library by family members after his death.
The Bigelow library is currently housed in closed stacks in the Special Collections Department of Schaffer Library. Their home there is particularly fitting, for shelved nearby are numerous volumes from the collections assembled by the students of Union’s 19th century literary societies, including the Philomathean, of which Bigelow was a member and whose library was his particular delight while he was enrolled at the College.
All images: Union College Schaffer Library, Special Collections, Digital Picture File.