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S. Brainard Pratt collection, 1869-1903

Identifier: MS4353

Scope and Contents

The S. Brainard Pratt collection contains materials created and collected by Pratt between the years 1869 and 1903. The collection is arranged into three series: bibliographic materials, objects, and scrapbooks.

The bibliographical materials series comprises of over 300 bibles and rare books collected by Pratt. This includes manuscripts, codices, bibles belonging to notable figures, foreign language bibles, bibles for the blind, biblical literature, Korans, and religious texts from foreign countries. Some of the most notable items in this series are a 900 year old fragment from the Samaritan Pentateuch, a Bible from the Gettysburg battlefield, John Knox’s Bible, and two bibles illuminated by Pratt himself.

The objects series consists of various artifacts related to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Eastern cultures. Notable artifacts from this series include Hebrew scrolls, Chinese printing blocks, and palm books.

The Scrapbooks, 1820-1903 series includes sixteen scrapbooks containing correspondence, photographs, autographs, pamphlets, and newspaper clippings. The scrapbooks contain acquisition information for materials in the collection, letters from the church community and its members, and materials from exhibitions of the collection that took place during Pratt’s lifetime. Correspondents present within this series include Pratt’s friends and family, editors of the Congregationalist, librarians from Harvard College Library, the Congregational Library, and the Mount Holyoke College Library, rare book dealers, and acquaintances who aided Pratt with book collecting, such as Selah Merrill and Isaac H. Hall. Letters from notable figures, such as Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Frances E. Willard, are also present in this series. Pratt's exhibition catalogues, miscellaneous loose materials, and indexes to the scrapbooks and autographs are also included in this series.


  • 1869-1903


Restrictions on Access

Access to this collection is unrestricted and open to the public.

Restrictions on Use

Items in this collection are subject to U.S. Copyright Law. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine the copyright status of collection items and to secure any permissions necessary for their reproduction and publication. Requests for permission to publish material must be discussed with the archivist or librarian.

Biographical Note

Sereno Brainard Pratt (1826-1903) was a Boston businessman, Congregationalist, Bible collector, and the founder and president of the Bible Illuminators' Guild.

Born to Presbyterian clergyman Rufus Pratt and Bethiah H. (Loring) Pratt on 15 December 1826 in New York, S. Brainard Pratt grew up in a dedicated Christian family. On 14 July 1852, Pratt married his first wife, Caroline “Carrie” E. Hart (1832-1859) from New Britain, Connecticut, with whom he had one child, Willis Webster Pratt (1854-1860). Following the death of his wife, Caroline, in 1859 (age 26) and his son, Willis Webster, in 1860 (age 6), Pratt remarried. Pratt and his second wife, known only as Mrs. S. Brainard Pratt, lived together happily with their daughter, Ida Loring Pratt (born 1861), until his death on 23 August 1903 (age 73) in Buckland, Massachusetts.

During his early adult life, Pratt worked for the firm Pratt, Baily & Co. and also served as senior deacon and prominent member of the Berkeley Temple Church, Boston. Throughout his life, Pratt also took on various leadership roles within the church community. The 1880’s was a particularly busy decade for Pratt, professionally. In 1881, he became director of the American Congregational Association. From 1882-1885, he served as secretary of church work for the Suffolk West Conference. Pratt was also an officer of the Congregational Sunday School Superintendents Union for several years before making president in 1885. The following year, in 1886, Pratt was made honorary vice president of the American Sunday School Union. Pratt was also the acting Sunday school superintendent at the Berkeley Street Church from 1882-1886. During this time, Pratt’s second wife, Mrs. S. Brainard Pratt, worked alongside him as Sunday school teacher at Berkeley Street Church. Like her husband, Mrs. S. Brainard Pratt also led a rigorous professional life. In addition to her position as Sunday school teacher, she also served as the recording secretary for the Woman’s Board of Missions (WBM) from 1873-1898 and as one of the vice presidents at WBM from 1898-1907. In addition, Mrs. Pratt was a writer and poet, actively publishing between 1875-1886.

In addition to his professional roles, S. Brainard Pratt was a notable collector. During the last 30 or so years of his life, Pratt collected over 300 bibles, rare books, and religious objects, marking him as one of the most renowned amateur collectors in America. His collection was exhibited on several occasions during his lifetime, including the 1881 exhibition at the convention of the State Congregational S.S. Workers at Berkeley Street Church, the 1891 exhibition at Berkeley Temple, Boston, and the 1900 exhibition at the library of the American Congregational Association. Pratt also published his Catalogue of Ancient & Modern Editions of the Scriptures with Other Sacred Books and Manuscripts, which detailed the exhibited items from his collection, in 1882. His collection was donated to the American Congregational Association, now known as the Congregational Library & Archives, in 1899.

Around 1891, Pratt channeled his creativity and passion for bibles by founding the Bible Illuminators’ Guild and serving as their president until his death in 1903. The Bible Illuminators’ Guild was dedicated to the revival of the medeival custom of marginal illumination of bibles and held its headquarters in the Congregational House.

Following his death in 1903, Pratt was remembered for his leadership in the church community and the labor of love that was his collection. Pratt’s legacy remains well preserved today through his collection and the dedication of the Pratt Room, also known as the “Biblearium,” at the Congregational Library & Archives.


8.12 Cubic Feet (11 boxes)

16 Objects (3 display cases)

Language of Materials



Sereno Brainerd Pratt (1826-1903) was a Boston businessman, Congregationalist, and prominent member of the church community. In addition to his professional roles, Pratt is known for his collection of bibles, rare books, and religious artifacts. The Congregational Library and Archives currently displays this collection in the Pratt Room, which was named for him in 1899. The collection consists of three series. The first is comprised of bibliographical materials, including over 300 bibles and rare books. The second series is the objects collection, comprised of religious and cultural artifacts. The third series contains scrapbooks created by S. Brainard Pratt, which include correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photographs.


The collection is arranged into three series, the second of which has been further arranged into five sub-series. Series one is arranged according to library classification. Series two, including its sub-series, is arranged according to object type. Series three is arranged numerically in ascending order according to the numbered labels assinged by S. Brainard Pratt and library staff.
Series 1: Bibliographic Materials
Series 2: Objects
Subseries 1: Scrolls
Subseries 2: Printing blocks
Subseries 3: Palm books
Subseries 4: Miscellaneous objects
Subseries 5: Displayed objects
Series 3: Scrapbooks, 1820-1903

Acquisition Information

S. Brainard Pratt, donated 1899
S. Brainard Pratt collection, 1869-1903
In Progress
Brittnee Worthy
Description rules
Dacs2 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Congregational Library & Archives Repository

14 Beacon Street
Suite 200
Boston MA 02108