Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES
- 20 -- GENERAL LITERATURE -- (Including the Berg Collection and the Arents Collection of Books in Parts)


The Berg Collection contains first and important editions, original manuscripts, and autograph letters in the field of English and American literature (some 70,000 pieces). Its particular strength is in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The collection is open to the public upon presentation of an admission card obtained from the Research Libraries Administrative Office.

A history of the Berg Collection reveals the development of its present structure. Shortly before the death of Dr. Henry W. Berg in 1938, a younger brother, Dr. Albert A. Berg, approached the New York Public Library to discuss the donation of their collection of rare books.5 After the death of Henry W. Berg, his brother presented in his memory the 3,500 items which they had accumulated over the course of three decades. This initial gift in February 1940 was the beginning of the memorial Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection. One of the conditions of the gift was that the library should allocate special rooms for the collection, the upkeep of which would be provided from a fund established by Berg. The gift consisted of a good collection of first editions of Dickens and Thackeray, early favorites of the brothers, as well as first editions of other nineteenth-century authors. There were also a number of manuscripts.

Berg's desire to build the collection increased. In September 1940 he purchased and presented to the library the collection of William Thomas Hildrup Howe, late president of the American Book Company. The Howe collection consisted of 16,000 pieces, including first and early editions, presentation copies, manuscripts, and important autograph letters, particularly of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Individual items of outstanding importance are the famous Roseberry copy of Keats's Endymion (1818) presented to Leigh Hunt by the author; Cooper's own copy of The Spy (1827) interleaved with manuscript corrections and additions; a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane (1827); many Thackerary letters, literary manuscripts, sketchbooks, and drawings; and Dickens's own public reading copies of The Chimes, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby at the Yorkshire School, and other works.6

Shortly thereafter Dr. Berg learned that Owen D. Young, formerly chairman of the board of the General Electric Company, wished to sell his collection. Berg arranged to purchase an undivided half-interest in the Young collection for the library, and Young presented the remainder. Described as of "almost fabulous proportions," the Young collection numbered between 10,000 and 15,000 books, manuscripts, and other English and American literary treasures. Beginning with the fifteenth century, it included the Pynson printing (1490) of Canterbury Tales; 4 Shakespeare folios (including the Dean Sage copy of the first folio); a 1640 edition of Shakespeare's poems; Bacon's own copy, with his crest, of Instauratio magna (1620); Alexander Pope's copy of Milton's Poems (1645), and a first edition of "Comus" (1637); William Blake's hand-colored Songs of Innocence (1789) and The Book of Thel (1789).7 ; the Kilmarnock edition of Robert Burns's Poems (1786); 1 of the finest of 12 known copies of Poe's Tamerlane (1827); "Alice's copy" of the withdrawn first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1866); and the dedication copy of Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1848). Among the original manuscripts are the extensive literary archive (some 2,500 items) of Fanny Burney (Frances Burney d'Arblay), Keats's final letter to Fanny Brawne, and Samuel Clemens's manuscripts of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Following the Equator.

By 1941 the Berg Collection had become a rare book and manuscript collection of first

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quality.8 In another twenty years of growth notable author collections were built up (Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, John Masefield, Bernard Shaw); among important literary archives which have come into the collection are those of Lady Gregory, Sir Edward Marsh, Sean O'Casey, and Virginia Woolf.

Special Indexes and Files

The Berg's Collection's holdings have not been incorporated into the Public Catalog of the Research Libraries. The collection maintains its own catalog (which was published in book form in five volumes by G.K. Hall & Company of Boston in 1969); but in the future new book acquisitions will be included in the Dictionary Catalog of the Research Libraries, Catalog cards detail bibliographical points; the letters "H," "Y," and "B" identify material from the Howe collection, the Young collection, and the original Berg collection.

There are three special files in the collection. The Correspondent File provides a record of letters under the name of the recipient. The Provenance File lists a selection of association copies and manuscripts under the name of the recipient, or under the name of the donor and recipient if the donor is other than the author of the work. The Portrait File locates portraits in the collection.