George Livermore

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George Livermore
George Livermore 1904 portrait.jpg
BornGeorge Livermore
(1809-07-10)July 10, 1809
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
DiedAugust 30, 1865(1865-08-30) (aged 56)
Resting placeMassachusetts, USA
ResidenceCambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Known forcollecting books
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Cunningham
Children3 sons
  • Deacon Nathaniel Livermore
  • Elizabeth Gleason

George Livermore (July 10, 1809 – August 30, 1865) was an American memoirist, bibliographer, and historian, known chiefly as a book collector, who had many valuable and rare Bibles.[1][2][3]

Early life[edit]

George Livermore was born July 10, 1809, at Cambridgeport, Massachusetts.[4] His parents were Deacon Nathaniel Livermore and Elizabeth (Gleason) Livermore.[5] His English ancestor, John Livermore, who emigrated from Ipswich, England in 1634 to the United States in 1634, settled in Watertown, Massachusetts,[5] and was believed to be the progenitor for the Livermore family members in the United States. [6]

Young George Livermore attended both public and private elementary schools at Cambridgeport.[4] He pursued college-prep courses in addition to the normal elementary school courses.[5] One of his private school classmates was the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.[5] Others at his school included Richard H. Dana and Margaret Fuller.[5] Livermore began to purchase books from Boston sales in his spare time.[7]

Mid-life and career[edit]

For reasons of health, in 1823, at the age of fourteen, Livermore decided to go directly into the workplace rather than attending college.[7] He left school and went to work with his older brothers, Isaac and Marshall.[7] They were merchants at Cambridgeport, where they ran a store.[7] The only additional schooling Livermore had was in 1827-28, when he was 18 years old.[7] He took some courses in English and Latin at Deerfield Academy.[7]

In 1829 Livermore went to Waltham, Massachusetts, some eight miles away, and became a dry-goods clerk and salesman in a store for a year.[8] He returned to Cambridge in 1830 and went to work in his father's shop making fancy soaps.[8] In the later part of 1830, the owner of the dry-goods store asked Livermore to return to his store in Waltham, offering higher pay.[9]

Livermore accepted the offer and returned to Waltham.[9] In the spring of 1831, the owner of the dry-goods store offered Livermore a two-year lease to operate the business on his own.[9] With encouragement from his friends, he took the opportunity to operate his own business and started officially in April 1831.[9] Livermore ran the business with profit for the two years and returned the business to the original owner as per the lease agreement.[4][9]

Since he had never left the state of Massachusetts, he decided to do some traveling in 1833.[10] Livermore went first to Maine, then New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.[10] While returning to Massachusetts, he went to West Point and Saratoga, New York.[10] On his travels to Washington D.C., he visited President Andrew Jackson.[11]

Livermore was employed in the shoe and leather business in Boston in 1834.[11] In this business he did a lot of traveling.[11] In the winter of 1834-35, he traveled to New Orleans for several weeks.[11] In 1838 he went into partnership with his older brother Isaac as wool merchants.[12] This afforded him the means to collect more books, as his diary showed.[12]

He enjoyed books throughout his life and collected them from an early age.[4] He enjoyed books on history, antiquities, biblical studies, and the history of printing and book binding.[13] Livermore developed what was recognized at the time as one of the finest private libraries in the United States.[13] By 1841 he owned twenty-six volumes (almost a complete set) of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Collections and John Winthrop's "History of New England".[14]

Livermore often wrote articles for newspapers; for instance, in 1849 he wrote a series in the Cambridge Chronicle on the New England Primer. He wrote an article for the Christian Examiner on Strickland’s History of the American Bible Society. In 1850, he wrote an article in the North American Review on public libraries.[13]


Livermore was a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society beginning in 1849. He was also elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1849,[15] and would later serve on its board of councilors from 1853-1865.[16] He became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1850 and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1855.[13] Livermore was a trustee of the Boston Athenaeum from 1851- 1859, chairing its Library Committee, and later served as its vice-president until his death.[13]

He became a trustee of the Massachusetts State Library in 1850.[13] The American Unitarian Association elected Livermore a member of the Executive Committee in 1859.[17]


Livermore's diary shows he participated in church activities throughout his life, including being a Sunday school teacher from time to time.[13] He wrote hymns for Sunday school children.[13]

Livermore bought various Bibles for his library book collection.[13] About a quarter of his personal library consisted of Bibles or related Bible literature.[18] One of these was a rare copy of Cromwell's Soldiers' Pocket Bible (1643).[13] This Pocket Bible was a condensed version of the Geneva Bible, containing chiefly war-related verses to inspire the troops, as well as provide moral guidance.[13] Given the printing methods of the time, a complete Bible would have been too bulky for a soldier to carry. Livermore's copy of the 1643 Pocket Bible is one of two copies that have survived into the 21st century. The pamphlet was the first of many condensed versions of the Bible, a form that would become popular for use by military authorities and by individuals.

In 1838, Livermore obtained a copy of Coverdale's Bible.[19] Another example of a rare Bible he purchased was a 1478 Venice edition of the Latin Vulgate, once owned by Pope Pius VI (with his coat of arms on the cover).[20] Livermore purchased a copy of the Geneva Bible from Rev. Dr. Homer's personal library in Newton, Massachusetts, which had been presented by Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin to Dr. Homer. This is purportedly the same 1576 copy (with a ghostly outline of the royal arms) given to Queen Elizabeth by the printer.[20] Livermore's library included a bible that had been owned by Adam Winthrop (father of the first Governor of Massachusetts); this copy is now held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.[20]


Livermore married Elizabeth when he was thirty years old, on October 1, 1839, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[19] Their children were

  • Frank (b. April 11, 1841)
  • William Roscoe (b. January 11, 1843)
  • Charles (b. April 11, 1848)


Livermore died August 30, 1865, at age 56, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[19]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Harvard College awarded Livermore an honorary degree of master of arts in 1850.[21]

Mrs. Waterston, reporter for the Atlantic Monthly, wrote a memorial article in November 1865 titled "The Visible and Invisible in Libraries" on the death of Livermore. She said in part:

Since these pages were written, one who knew how to prize the visible and invisible of books has passed away. The silent library of George Livermore speaks eloquently of him. That collection, gathered with a love which increased as years advanced, includes ancient copies of the Bible of rarest values. His life was a book, written over with good deeds and pure thoughts, illuminated by holy aspirations. That volume is closed, but the spirit which rendered it precious is not withdrawn; living in many hearts, it will continue to be a cherished presence in the world, the home, and the library.[22]



  1. ^ Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 1869, p. 1-19.
  2. ^ Hillard 1869, p. 415-468.
  3. ^ Duyckinck 1875, p. 772, 773.
  4. ^ a b c d Duyckinck 1875, p. 772.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hillard 1869, p. 415.
  6. ^ Old Northwest 1901, p. 26.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Hillard 1869, p. 416.
  8. ^ a b Hillard 1869, p. 417.
  9. ^ a b c d e Hillard 1869, p. 418.
  10. ^ a b c Hillard 1869, p. 419.
  11. ^ a b c d Hillard 1869, p. 420.
  12. ^ a b Hillard 1869, p. 423.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Duyckinck 1875, p. 773.
  14. ^ Hillard 1869, p. 426.
  15. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  16. ^ Dunbar, B. (1987). Members and Officers of the American Antiquarian Society. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society.
  17. ^ Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 1869, p. 458.
  18. ^ Hillard 1869, p. 454.
  19. ^ a b c Hillard 1869, p. 425.
  20. ^ a b c Hillard 1869, p. 456.
  21. ^ Duyckinck 1875, p. 773 In 1850, Harvard College conferred on him the honorary degree of master of arts, and about that time he was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences..
  22. ^ Hillard 1869, p. 468.


  • Duyckinck, Evert Augustus (1875). Cyclopædia of American Literature: Embracing Personal and Critical Notices of Authors, and Selections from Their Writings, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; with Portraits, Autographs, and Other Illustrations. In two volumes. W. Rutter.
  • Hillard, George Stillman (1869). "Memoir of George Livermore" by Charles Deane.
  • Old Northwest (1901). The "Old Northwest" Genealogical Quarterly. "Old Northwest" Genealogical Society. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  • Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1869). Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
  • Massachusetts Historical Society, Historical Society (1866). Tribute to the memory of George Livermore.

External links[edit]