Frederic Vinton, collector

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Frederic Vinton served as the 20th librarian of Princeton from the fall of 1873 until his death on January 1, 1890.

His legacy of publications and achievements includes being a founder of the American Library Association (1876) and publication of his monumental 894 page Subject Catalogue of the Library of the College of New Jersey, at Princeton. (New York, 1884).

He also left a series of scrapbooks as part of his official legacy. He made these in order to both document and systematically record prodigious national events during his term. He recognized that making a scrapbook was a way of supplying the Library with a reference book on a topic even before such was produced by publishers. It was a way to bring the ‘recent past’ to collections formed by customary 19th century academic codes privileging ancient history, the classics, national literatures and other topics germane to the seven liberal arts.

Vinton’s efforts conformed to the rationale provided in 1880 by journalist E. W. Gurley, who posed the question “Who should we make scrap-books?” and noted:

“In Franklin’s day there were two newspapers in America; now there are about 8000 periodicals of all grades, constantly flooding the land with a stream of intelligence. Much of this is ephemeral, born for the day and dying with the day; yet scarcely a paper falls into the hands of the intelligent reader in which he does not see something worth keeping” (E. W. Gurley Scrap-books and how to make them[New York, 1880], p. 10)

He went on to answer the question “Who should keep a scrap-book?” and responded “Every one who reads … Jefferson was in the habit of collecting, in this form, all the information bearing on certain points in which he was interested. … Sumner was an habitual gatherer of Scraps, and found them invaluable aids to even his vast field of information. … It is said of another noted Congressman that he dreaded an opponent of much inferior powers, because the latter was a careful compiler of Scrap-Books, and thus had a fund of knowledge which the more brilliant man did not possess. … ” (p. 11)


Vinton’s scrapbooks center on the theme of death and disaster.

1874-1878 — Consists of newspaper accounts at Charles Sumner’s death, as well as those looking back on his political career. Call number; (Ex) Oversize 1083.891.673e. Finding aid [link]

1881-1882 — Collection of newspaper accounts concerning the assassination of President Garfield, and the trial of Charles Guiteau. Call number; (Ex) Oversize 10862.378.37e. Finding aid [link]

1888 — Collection of newspaper accounts concerning the New York city snowstorm of 1888 : known as the Great White Hurricane of 1888. Call number; (Ex) Oversize 10992.863e. Finding aid [link]

1889 — Collection of newspaper accounts concerning the Washington centennial, 1889, and the Johnstown flood, 1889. Call number; (Ex) Oversize 10822.956.953e. Finding aid [link]

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