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The Astor Library, founded by the will of John Jacob Astor, was incorporated January 18, 1849. Washington Irving was the first president of the trustees, and Joseph Green Cogswell the first superintendent of the library. After collecting and arranging nearly a hundred thousand books, Dr. Cogswell undertook the preparation of a catalogue. His scheme was “a dictionary or alphabetical index in two parts, the first, of authors and books, the second, of subjects,” making “eight volumes, four for each part.” The first part was completed and published in four volumes, 1857–61; and then Dr. Cogswell resigned the office of superintendent. He continued, however, to serve as trustee, and, although unable to carry out fully the second part of his scheme, he prepared a brief index of subjects, which was published in 1866. To this was prefixed a list of recent accessions, by way of supplement to the previous work.
Between 1860 and 1880 the library was doubled by gift and bequest of William B. Astor, son of the founder; and in November, 1880, the trustees, under the presidency of Alexander Hamilton, authorized the preparation of a new catalogue, in continuation of Dr. Cogswell's index of authors and books. This continuation, coming down to the end of 1880, has been prepared chiefly by Charles Alexander Nelson. The materials were Dr. Cogswell's supplement, interlineations by his successor, Francis Schroeder, and a card catalogue introduced by a later superintendent, James Carson Brevoort; but it was found necessary to compare these preliminary entries with the books themselves. Dr. Cogswell's general method has been followed; but a somewhat fuller description and a more frequent analysis have made the work unexpectedly long. It is hoped, however, that the remaining volumes will follow as fast as careful printing will allow.