Shareholder Spotlight: Robert Aitken (1734-1802)

Dana Dorman, Archivist, Library Company Papers Project

Receipt for a Library Company share dated 1733

Image: Receipt for a Library Company share, 1733.

We continue our monthly “shareholder spotlight” series by taking a closer look at Share #426 and its first owner, Robert Aitken (1734-1802).

Shareholders have always been the backbone of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Starting with the first group of fifty tradesmen who formed the library in 1731, shareholders have provided crucial financial support each year for our mission to “pour forth benefits for the common good.”

We keep careful track of who has owned each historic share, and our list of 9,800+ shareholders includes signers of the Declaration and Constitution, merchants, doctors, soldiers, scientists, artists, philanthropists, politicians, and much more.

Share #426

This share was first issued to Robert Aitken/Aitkin (1734-1802) on April 26, 1775.

He was a printer, binder, and bookseller in Philadelphia. In fact, he printed the Library Company’s “second Catalogue” that year, and the directors paid his bill in part with a share.

Photograph of LCP directors minutes from 1775 describing Robert Aitkin share transaction

Image: Detail from April 18, 1775 minutes. Directors Minutes Vol. 2 1768-1785. Library Company of Philadelphia Records (MSS00270).


Aitken’s shop printed and/or bound dozens of items in the Library Company’s collections, including his 1776 printing of the Journals of the Proceedings of Congress. He is especially renowned for what is now known as the “Aitken Bible,” the first complete Bible published in the newly independent United States.

Aitken’s account books, showing the shop’s sales and binding orders, are now part of the collections of the Library Company.

Photograph of printed broadside advertising Robert Aitken's shop

Image: R. Aitken, printer, book-binder, and bookseller, opposite the coffee-house, Front-Street, Philadelphia, 1779. Performs all kinds of printing-work, plain and ornamental. (Philadelphia, Printed by Robert Aitken, 1779).


As for share #426, it is unclear whether Aitken took advantage of his Library Company share by borrowing books, as well as printing and binding them, but his time as a shareholder was relatively brief.

He apparently re-sold share #426 to Thomas Leiper (1745-1825) in 1777, but the Library Company did not register the transfer until March 8, 1780.

Photograph of scrap of paper with handwritten receipt for 1777 transfer of share from Robert Aitken to Thomas Leiper

Image: Receipt for share transfer from Robert Aitken to Thomas Leiper, June 2, 1777. Library Company of Philadelphia Records (MSS00270).

Thomas Leiper would keep share #426 for the rest of his life.

Leiper was a wealthy tobacco and snuff merchant, and he also had business interests in quarries, paper-making, lumber, and more. He was also among the gentlemen who formed the volunteer cavalry known as the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia, which is now known as the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, and a founder of the Bank of North America.

After Leiper’s death in 1825, the share remained with his estate until June 3, 1842, when it was transferred to another Thomas Leiper – most likely a descendant. The share has been owned by only five people in its history.

Not yet a shareholder?

Share #426 is currently available. We work hard to match potential shareholders with historic shares that match their interests, and we would love to match you with Robert Aitken’s share or another option. To learn more, reach out to our Development Office at or 215-546-3181 ext. 142.