The Library of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture was deposited with the University of Pennsylvania in 1888, at a time when the Society’s activities had ceased and very few living members remained . It was the discovery of the Society’s papers stored in the basement of the new university library (now the Furness Fines Arts building) that led to the revival of the Society in the early twentieth century. Thus the Library survives both as a monument to the past and as a source of new beginning.
Rich in artifactual value, the manuscripts of the early American period also provide uncommon resources for the study of American farmer’s quest for improved farming practices. As the economy of the new nation became dependent on a scientific approach to farming that would develop agriculture into a strong basic economy, the records of the Society’s correspondence and activities document the results of new methods of planting, fertilizing, harvesting, and the breeding and care of livestock.
While the Society published the work of its members, as well as material submitted in response to solicitations for the best methods, there was still a reliance on European sources of agricultural knowledge, especially French and English. The Society not only purchased books from abroad, but many European authors sent copies of their works, especially pamphlet publications. Particularly because of the Society’s interest in the spreading of agricultural knowledge, the collection is strong in nineteenth-century American agricultural journals, which were made available in the Society’s reading rooms.
Over the years the University of Pennsylvania Library and the Society have worked together to preserve, develop, and provide access to this singular collection so that scholars now and in the future can turn to it as the valuable resource it is.