The Circulating Library

All Things Georgian

Fashionable young woman pausing at door of circulating library, facing forward with arm on an umbrella. 30 December 1782 Hand-coloured mezzotint. Courtesy of the British Museum

During the 18th and early 19th centuries the more affluent in society had plenty of time for reading and although circulating  or lending libraries had existed prior to the 1700’s, it wasn’t until then that they really took off as booksellers and other organisations saw them as another way of making money by reaching people who couldn’t afford to buy books outright, but who were willing to pay a relatively low subscription to read them, given that the cost of purchasing a book was fairly prohibitive for many. Circulating libraries popped up in towns and cities across the country.

Serena Reading by George Romney (c) Harris Museum & Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The largest circulating library carrying over…

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