Tag Archives: Circulating Library

Circulating Library Catalogue – Thurnam’s of Carlisle

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An uncommon example of a circulating library catalogue – Thurnam’s of Carlisle 1827, Parts I-XIX, a total of nearly two thousand works, a decent sized circulating library if we compare this to the figures listed in Allan’s ‘A Nation of Readers’ (Table 4.1) – parts were added to the catalogue as new books became available; John Turton had a copy of Thurnam’s catalogue to part XXVI in a 2013 catalogue.

Thurnam’s ‘let out to read’ books at £1, 1s a year; 12s half a year, 7s a quarter, 4s a month, or by single volume at 1d each evening, though “the proprietor will sometimes be necessitated to charge a trifle additional for expensive works”.

The books are mainly fiction, which led to worries about the influence of circulating libraries, indeed the chapter on circulating libraries in Allan is titled ‘Inlets of Vice and Debauchery’, opening with a wonderful quote by Cooke, “how many young people, especially girls, often procure, and sometimes in a secret manner, books of so evil a tendency, that not only their time is most shamefully wasted, but their morals and manners tainted and warped for the remainder of their lives”.

For an excellent overview of book clubs, reading societies, subscription libraries, circulating libraries and early public libraries, see David Allan, A Nation of Readers – The Circulating Library in Georgian England (2008)

Circulating Library Labels

As well as bookseller labels, I am also very keen on circulating library labels and yes, I know I should get out more. These are obviously best left in (and on) the books involved as they are a good source of provenance, but often they arrive here already removed.


Circulating libraries lent books, pamphlets, newspapers etc to customers for a fee and prospered largely between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century. They often offered other book-related trades and products like printing, bookbinding and book selling, but also slightly more unusual things like medicine, perfumes and umbrellas (see below).

Probably the nicest example I have is stuck onto the outside of the covers, and the only one I have seen which has a ‘front’ and a ‘back’, though it is unlikely to have been intended as such.



The ‘front’ of the above example from Bettison’s of Leamington does appear in the Papantonio Collection which forms the basis of the excellent book by Charlotte A. Stewart-Murphy, “A History of British Circulating Libraries”, published by the Bird & Bull Press in 1992 (see Plate VI), but the ‘back’ does not.

The Stewart-Murphy book mentioned above is probably the best introduction to circulating libraries and their labels, Scottish circulating libraries are brilliantly served by Keith Manley’s, “Books, Borrowers and Shareholders”, though, alas, no illustrations are provided of the actual labels