Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Art & Architecture > 63. Abraham Swan

63.  Abraham Swan (ca. 1720-ca. 1765).  A Collection of Designs in Architecture, Containing New Plans and Elevations of Houses, for General Use. Philadelphia: R. Bell Bookseller, 1775. Avery Library, Classics Collection

Swan's Collection of Designs is the second architectural book to be printed in the Colonies, and by far the rarest of the handful printed before 1800 in what came to be the United States of America. It appears that only two other copies exist, at the New York Public Library and Winterthur in Delaware.

The printer Robert Bell and engraver John Norman had announced their intention to publish A Collection of Designs, in twelve monthly numbers, in their publication of Swan's British Architect (1775), the first book on architecture printed in the Colonies. Perhaps because of the political situation, only this, the first number, ever appeared. The book was dedicated to John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Its dedication leaf features an emblem engraved by Norman, symbolizing the unity of the thirteen colonies.

The Avery copy was purchased by Richard Smith (1735-1803), a delegate to the Continental Congress, while on recess in Philadelphia. His inscription on the title-page, "Richd. Smith Novr. 15. 1775," gives a terminus ante quem for publication; the fascicule with its ten leaves of plates may have been available some months earlier. In the twentieth century, the book was owned by a Pennsylvania senator's nephew and namesake, Boies Penrose II (1902-1976), who affixed his ex-libris to the title-page's verso.

Purchase, 1990

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