Collections of Distinction


chamberlainThe Mellen Chamberlain Collection of Autographs forms the core of the library’s extensive manuscript holdings. It contains 20,000 letters, documents, portraits, and engravings relating to America and Europe from the end of the 15th century through the middle of the 19th century. Its primary source material documents the culture and history of both the United States and Europe over a 500-year timeframe.

Judge Mellen Chamberlain, Librarian of the Boston Public Library from 1878-1890, donated his extensive collection of manuscripts to the library in 1893. What began as an autograph collection was transformed over years of collecting into a major research collection. As both a serious collector and writer, Chamberlain’s interest in American and European history and culture is reflected in the wide scope of this collection.

Highlights of the American Colonial section include documents that record the persecution of the Quakers in Boston in 1660 and legal documents and correspondence related to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. The Revolutionary section chronicles the governing of Boston, the actions citizens took against British occupation and rule, and the unfolding of military and naval campaigns. The American Culture section consists of letters and manuscripts by such authors as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Phillis Wheatley, and John Singleton Copley.

The European Royalty section contains correspondence and documents by all the rulers of England from Henry VII to Victoria, with the exception of Edward IV, the French kings from Louis VII to Louis XVI, Ferdinand and Isabella, Frederick the Great, and Maria Theresa. The European Culture section includes philosophers such as Diderot, Hobbes, Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and Schopenhauer and artists including Correggio, Rembrandt, Holgarth, and George Cruikshank. The Shakespeare section consists of correspondence by several 19th-century scholars and editors of Shakespeare.