Thursday, February 7, 2013


A rare and important New York treasure welcomes the foot traffic at 20 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. It is The Library at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, the largest free circulating library in the city open to the public for on-site use and scholarly research. There are no restrictions; everyone is invited to enter the building. Most stand in awe as they view the main reading room that soars to a height of three stories topped by a magnificent skylight. The faux marble pillars, ironwork, and wooden shelving lend the reading room a rare and unique place in the city where it is freeze framed in time awaiting visitors.

THE APPRENTICE LIBRARY Established in 1820 as the Apprentices’ Library, by 1861 the library extended privileges to women and at the turn of the 19th century it had become the largest free circulating library in New York City. It’s an awesome place and I can attest to its rich trove of books as I did research here for my book, The Cooper-Hewitt Dynasty of New York (History Press, 2012). In the 1885 Centennial Celebration, Abram Stevens Hewitt recalled a visit to the society with his father John Hewitt, who had been initiated as a member in 1810. “When I was a boy eleven years of age, my father took me by the hand and led me up to the Apprentice Library. For the first time in my life I saw books beyond the wildest dreams of my fancy.” There Abram indulged his passion for reading in one of the richest collections of books in New York.

LIBRARY SPANS TWO CENTURIES The book and periodical collections of the Library span two centuries, number more than 110,000 volumes, and are suited to both on-site use and scholarly research. The circulating collection includes books on all subjects from the past and the present, while the non-circulating collection includes books and periodicals on the “useful and mechanical arts,” urban trades and crafts, printing and publishing, building and construction, and 19th century Americana. Recent acquisitions focus on the built environment and the occupations and activities of behind-the-scenes New York, including the building and construction industry, architecture, historic preservation, printing and publishing, labor and work history and cultural production.
THE GENERAL SOCIETY OF MECHANICS & TRADESMEN (GSMT) The Library is an educational program of The General Society of Tradesmen, an educational and philanthropic organization founded on November 17, 1785 when thirteen artisans established it as a craftsmen’s mutual aid organization intended to assist brethren, workmen and their families in sickness and distress. Abraham Godwin (1763-1855) the artist and engraver, who devised the membership certificate, incorporated a framework centered on the group’s iconic motto, “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand,” and symbol, the upraised arm , with hammer. In 1820 GSMT founded the Mechanics and Tradesmen School with its library.

MEMBERHIP IN GSMT Membership expanded rapidly. The General Society’s original membership registration record records the numbered names of every member who joined The General Society since its founding. Peter Cooper, founder of his free institution, Cooper Union is listed in the membership archives on December 6, 1837 , as a ‘Glue Maker,’ a tradesman term that Cooper preferred. GSMT continues to operate today as a society for mechanics and architects with its mission to improve educational and cultural opportunities for working people in New York City. The Artisan Lecture series continues to focus on craftsmanship by presenting lectures by master artisans in their respective crafts and the Mechanic’s Institute offers tuition-free courses, unique in the city, taught by instructors who have hand-on experience, are currently working in their trade and teach the latest techniques. Call 212.840.1840 ext 1 for a school catalog.

THE JOHN M. MOSSMAN LOCK COLLECTION is of interest. It represents one of the most complete anthologies of bank and vault locks in the world, with more than 370 locks, keys and tools dating from 4000 BC to the modern 20-th century. To augment the lock collection, Mr. Mossman donated his notes and scrapbooks, known as the Mossman papers, which have proven to be a valuable resource for study of locks. “The Lure of the Lock,” published in 1928 describes each look in the collection. Other holdings of note in collections of various antebellum curios, rare books, prints, flags, clocks and medals donated by friends and members.

DON’T YOU THINK ITS ABOUT TIME TO VISIT THE LIBRARY OF THE GENERAL SOCIETY OF MECHANICS & TRADESMEN OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK? The Library is open to the public for on-site use and research Monday to Thursday: 11am-7pm and Friday: 10am-5pm. Research collections and archives by appointment. Telephone 212.921-1767 ext. 4. For levels of contribution and membership Email: Visit

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Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.