HISTORY: The Saint Louis Lyceum was a public forum for intellectual programs and self-improvement in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in the 1830's, it is important because it maintained and developed the first public subscription library in St. Louis, that of the St. Louis Library Association, founded in the early 1820's. The archives and book collections of the two early libraries were bought by the Mercantile Library in the early 1850's, and became a cornerstone bibliographic collection at the Mercantile. This collection was reassembled from the stacks of the Mercantile through study of the original accession records concerning the acquisition in 1851.
SCOPE: The collection comprises the earliest extant public library west of the Mississippi, and covers a range of subjects-- classics, travel, exploration, literature and science, offering a glimpse of what the earliest citizens of St. Louis read.
HOLDINGS: One linear foot of manuscripts, foundational archives and other documents, including circulation and accession records, meeting minutes and other records; approximately 500 printed books and pamphlets from this early book collection, some with association annotations, original ownership marks, or bookplates.
ACCESS: The Constitution, By-laws, and Meeting Minutes of the Lyceum were bound together in one large hand-written book. The holdings of Special Collection M-114 are accessible through a card catalog and a supplemental card file. A brief analysis of the collection is available: The First St. Louis Library: Books and People on the Missouri Frontier, 1811-1851 (1989). The circulation records of the Lyceum have been microfilmed. The constitution, by-laws, and membership of the Mechanics' Institute of St. Louis, an allied organization, are also available digitally. Portions of the collection may be photocopied, digitally scanned, or photographed, depending on condition.