Athenæum Spotlights King’s Chapel Library Collection

The Boston Athenæum is now spotlighting a major exhibition to showcase and interpret the King’s Chapel Library Collection, one of the surviving treasures of 17th century Boston.

“Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library” will be on public view UNTIL March 14, 2020 in the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery on the library’s first floor. It tells the story of colonial Bostonians’ quest for “essential knowledge”—and invite visitors to reflect on their own “must-read” lists, along with those of 10 community partners, including City Council President Andrea Campbell, King’s Chapel, the Museum of African American History, the North Bennet Street School and University of Massachusetts Boston, among others.

The exhibit includes selections from King’s Chapel Library. In 1698, a set of 221 books crossed the Atlantic on HMS Deptford, a 55 man-of-war, to serve as a compact library of necessary works for King’s Chapel, the first Anglican church in Boston. They had been chosen by Reverend Thomas Bray of London, an appointed commissary, or spiritual guide, to Anglican outposts in the American colonies. Cached safely when the minister, loyal to the British Crown, fled Boston in March 1776, the books re-emerged after the American Revolution, and were deposited at the Athenæum in 1823.

 “Required Reading” will also feature a full-scale replica of the massive, ark-like bookcase designed in 1883 to house the historic collection. The replica, built in 2019 by exhibition designer Brent Budsberg of Current Projects and supported in part by the Chipstone Foundation, is called an achievement in contemporary woodworking, and will be modified in a surprising way to enabling visitors to browse dozens of “must-read” works offered by the 10 partners.

Rare and notable King’s Chapel Library Collection items in the exhibition include: an atlas of the world (1693); a mathematics textbook covering topics from practical geometry to logarithms (1690) ; a  printer’s tour de force, the nine-language “London Polyglot” Bible (1657); and  s Biblical concordance compiled by Massachusetts minister Samuel Newman (1658).

Regular gallery talks and lectures are scheduled throughout the exhibition’s run.

“We invite everyone to come and see the exhibition and attend [our programs] event every week at the Athenæum,” said Maria Daniels, the Athenæum’s director communications.

The Boston Athenæum is located at 10½ Beacon St. on Beacon Hill; visit for more information.

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