In 1754, New York City was the practical capital of the New World. And yet unlike Philadelphia, the city didn’t have a library to call its own. Happily, six bibliophilic (and doubtless bossy) New Yorkers convinced Colonial Governor James DeLancey to let them use a room in City Hall as a subscription library. Named the New York Society Library, it later served as the first Library of Congress – and records show that George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton all borrowed from it. Rumor has it Washington failed to return two books due in 1789, a fine totaling about $300,000 as of today. He might be forgiven, of course, by a conscientious librarian: that year was his first as president.
Today the library and its 300,000 volumes reside in the former brownstone mansion of John S. Rogers at 53 E. 79th Street, built in 1918. Members pay an annual fee of $225 for borrowing privileges and access to all five floors with a members’ lounge and exhibit hall. That dues is the same amount it costs Apple to make a single iPad. It’s also the worth of a 1918 penny in perfect condition, if you want to barter.