About the Berg Collection

The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature is one of America's most celebrated collections of literary first editions, rare books, autograph letters, and manuscripts. The founding collection was assembled and presented to The New York Public Library, with an endowment, by Dr. Albert A. Berg (1872-1950), a famous New York surgeon and trustee of the Library, in memory of his brother, Dr. Henry W. Berg (1858-1938). Both men found relaxation from their medical careers in collecting the works and memorabilia of English and American men and women of letters.

The collection's more than 35,000 printed items and 115,000 manuscripts cover the entire range of two national literatures with particular emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The earliest manuscript in the Berg Collection is a contemporary transcription of John Donne's poems dating from 1619, and the two earliest books are chronicles printed by William Caxton in 1480. Among the division's holdings one can find rarities considered museum pieces by the book world, including manuscripts of T. S. Eliot's early poems and the original typescript of The Waste Land; the holograph diaries of Virginia Woolf; two copies of the extremely rare first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane; the Bristol edition of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads; and Robert Browning's Pauline. The literary archive of Fanny Burney, including Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla in manuscript and her diary and letters as prepared for the press, forms a unique source for the study of the Burneys and their wide circle. First editions of the works of Dr. Johnson, Sterne, Smollett, Sheridan, Burns, and Blake, together with Defoe, Swift, Addison and Steele, Richardson, and Fielding, are well represented.

The collection of works by the principal authors of the nineteenth century includes many first editions, manuscripts, and letters. The Berg Collection houses important holdings of the American writers Washington Irving, Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), and Walt Whitman and the British writers Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Rudyard Kipling, and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Items in the collection include many of Charles Dickens's public reading copies of his works, William Makepeace Thackeray's letters, manuscripts, sketchbooks, and drawings, "Alice's copy" of the first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; John Keats's final letter to Fanny Brawne; and Mark Twain's manuscripts of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Following the Equator.

The present century is represented by strong holdings in Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, George Gissing, James Joyce, John Masefield, Eugene O'Neill, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, and Jack Kerouac. The Irish Literary Renaissance is represented by the papers of Lady Gregory, the moving spirit of the Dublin Abbey Theatre and guardian of W. B. Yeats's poetic talent, and the surviving literary archives of Sean O'Casey, many of whose papers were destroyed by fire. The Georgian Poetry movement and the Bloomsbury group are also well documented. The early history of the Provincetown Playhouse is reflected in the archive of two writers closely connected with its founding: George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell.

In recent years, in addition to the Vladimir Nabokov Archive, the division has added to its collection the archives of W. H. Auden, Robert Graves, Jean Garrigue, Muriel Rukeyser, May Sarton, Philip Levine, Kenneth Koch, Lewis Warsh, and Paul Auster, as well as the papers of James Sibley Watson, co-owner of The Dial, the major journal of literary modernism in the 1920s; the papers of Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart, the major American bookstore specializing in modern literature; and the Ann and Samuel Charters Collection of Beat Literature.

Russia 1899-1919 | Europe 1919-1939 | U.S. 1940-1960 | Switzerland 1960-1977
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