Chamberlain, Mellen (1821-1900) Collection of Autographs

(Rare Books & Manuscripts) Judge Mellen Chamberlain was a jurist, scholar, and autograph collector who served as Librarian of the Boston Public Library from 1878-1890.

Chamberlain amassed what became, during his lifetime, one of the most extensive private collections of manuscripts in America. In 1893, three years after his retirement, he donated the entire collection to the BPL.

Judge Chamberlain's interest in American history and literature is reflected in the wide and sometimes comprehensive scope of his collection. Containing approximately 20,000 letters, documents, and portraits, the Chamberlain Collection of Autographs now forms the nucleus of the Library’s overall manuscript holdings.

Scope and Contents

The Chamberlain Collection of Autographs documents American and European history, culture, and literature from the end of the 15th century through the late 19th century.

The American portion of the collection is divided into three sections: Colonial, Revolutionary, and "Culture." documenting the social, political, legal, and military history of the colonies, with a particular focus on Boston and New England.

The European portion of the collection is similarly broad in scope, with sections on royalty, culture, and Shakespeare. The culture section itself can be divided into two parts: philosophers and artists. The Shakespeare section consists primarily of correspondence by 18th- and 19th-century scholars and editors of Shakespeare, including Edmund Malone, Elizabeth Montagu, Thomas Bowdler, and George Steevens.

Online access: A digitized version of the printed description for this collection is available through Internet Archive, opens a new window. (Rare Books & Manuscripts)