1758-1934; bulk: 1791-1899
Guide to the Collection
Representative digitized documents from this collection:
This collection consists of the records of the Massachusetts Historical Society from its founding in 1791 to 1899, including officer and Council, financial, library, curatorial, membership, building, and editorial records.
For information on the history of the Massachusetts Historical Society, see:
Tucker, Louis Leonard. The Massachusetts Historical Society: A Bicentennial History, 1791-1991. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1996.
Tucker, Louis Leonard. "From Belknap to Riley: Building the Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society." Witness to America's Past: Two Centuries of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1991. 15-23.
This collection is comprised of the records of the Massachusetts Historical Society from its founding in 1791 to 1899 and encompasses the full range of the Society's activities over the first century of its existence. Included are officer and Council, financial, library, curatorial, membership, building, and editorial records. The collection contains a few items dated before 1791, such as manuscripts for publication and some newspaper clippings, and items dated after 1900 when they form part of a series, subject, or volume that continues into the 20th century.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Officer and Council records, 1758-1925
This series consists of papers of the president and general administration of the Society, the standing committee/Council (the Society's governing body), the recording secretary, and the corresponding secretary.
A. General administrative records, 1758-1925
This subseries contains materials concerning the Society as a whole, generated by the president and the administration of the MHS, including correspondence, a visitor register, scrapbooks, and other papers related to organizational matters. Most of the correspondence is that of Charles F. Adams, Jr. when he was president of the Society (1895-1902). Earlier materials (1791-1894) consist of miscellaneous loose papers and letters, mostly written to other officers of the Society, that were not part of any other series in the pre-1900 archives. Correspondence also includes letters (1812 and 1856) regarding the disposition of William A. Burwell's manuscript on Bacon's Rebellion, published in the Collections (2nd series, vol. I); manuscripts for publication; donations; the Lowell lectures (1869); George Ellis's silver bequest (1895-1899); and many other topics.
General administrative volumes include 1791 records (copies made at a later date); a Society visitor register, 1858-1918; and an early letterbook of the Society, 1791-1798, with letters of Jeremy Belknap. A note by Charles Deane at the beginning of the volume describes it the "first and only 'Letter Book' of the Society." This subseries also contains a 100th anniversary scrapbook (disbound), 1891; and two large scrapbooks (Vols. OS 2-3) of newspaper clippings and a few manuscripts concerning miscellaneous historical topics in the United States and abroad. Vol. OS 2 contains a wide range of clippings dating back to 1758. The compiler of the scrapbooks and their connection to the MHS is unknown.
Administrative correspondence and loose papers, mostly C. F. Adams, Jr., 1791-1902
Miscellaneous administrative volumes, 1758-1903
NOTE: This volume is very fragile and contains crumbling newspaper clippings.
NOTE: This volume is very fragile and contains crumbling newspaper clippings.
B. Records of the standing committee/Council, 1833-1907
This subseries contains a manuscript volume of "laws and regulations of the MHS," written in 1833 by the standing committee for printing and distribution, as well as two volumes of minutes of standing committee meetings. No separate record of the work of the standing committee was kept prior to 1857. (See note at the beginning of Records, vol. I.) Beginning in 1857, the recording secretary served as the secretary of the standing committee.
C. Recording secretary records, 1791-1903
This subseries consists of correspondence and papers of the recording secretary; official minutes of the Society meetings, kept by the recording secretary; and materials related to the controversy regarding the disposition of Thomas Hutchinson's papers.
Correspondence and other loose papers, 1791-1903
The loose papers of the recording secretary include manuscript copies and drafts of the foundation documents of the Society (constitution, regulations, etc.), early minutes, lists of library items, votes, committee reports, donations, meeting notices, member lists, printers' correspondence, orders for publications, and other materials documenting the "business" of the Society. These items, originally tipped into five volumes, have been numbered according to their order in the volumes.
These volumes contain the recording secretary's official minutes of MHS meetings. Vol. I is a slim paper-bound volume stored in a narrow box; Vol. II is located in oversize; and the rest of the volumes are cased individually.
D. Corresponding secretary records, 1791-1913
This subseries contains letters written to the corresponding secretary, mostly concerning election to the Society; "communications" on historical topics; and letters about donations to the Society's "collections" (art, artifacts, and manuscripts) and "library" (published materials). Included are a number of letters written by the authors of historical works, forwarding copies of their books to the Society. The records consist of two "series" of correspondence, originally tipped into 12 volumes. The first series (Boxes 14-23) is the principal one, and the second series is comprised of materials found after the first series was tipped into volumes. (See note at the beginning of 2nd series, vol. I.) Items have been removed and numbered according to their order in the volumes.
Correspondence, 1st series, 1792-1913
Correspondence, 2nd series, 1791-1843
II. Financial records, 1791-1910
This series includes general correspondence and other papers kept by the treasurer, arranged chronologically; treasurers' account books; miscellaneous financial volumes; and other loose papers regarding funds, financial committees, etc.
A. Treasurers' papers, 1791-1902
The treasurers' papers consist of correspondence, bills, receipts, accounts, etc. Some correspondence relates to donations of library and cabinet items. The papers were originally tipped into volumes in rough chronological order, but have since been removed and arranged in chronological order.
B. Treasurers' account books, 1825-1904
NOTE: Vol. I, presumably dated 1791-1824 or 1825, was destroyed by fire (date unknown).
C. Miscellaneous accounts and other papers, 1855-1910
This subseries contains other account books kept by the treasurer, or account books of MHS monies kept by other people. Included are miscellaneous accounts such as publications, binding, funds, various expenses, etc., as well as loose papers related to funds and financial committees.
D. Treasurers' statements and annual reports, 1859-1907
This subseries consists of printed annual "statements" and annual reports of the treasurer. Included are some gaps in the chronology, but all of the treasurers' reports have been published in the MHS Proceedings.
III. Library records, 1791-1902
Library records include correspondence, catalogs and lists, records of donations, books taken out, exchanges, accessions, and miscellaneous library items.
A. Correspondence ("Library Letters"), 1834-1900
The "Library Letters" consist of correspondence concerning donations, acknowledgements, permissions, research queries, requests to borrow items, letters of introduction, library visits and use of the collections, queries and donations from other historical agencies, etc. Also included is correspondence related to the printing and distribution of MHS publications. Letters were originally arranged alphabetically and tipped into volumes. They have since been removed from the volumes, but their original arrangement has been maintained.
B. Library catalogs and lists, 1796-1900
This subseries consists of many different versions and dates of library catalogs, both in print and in manuscript. A number of the catalogs contain printed pages glued into volumes with manuscript annotations and additions. Also included are miscellaneous lists which were not clearly identified or dated, such as lists of printed materials of various types.
This volume is possibly a sales catalog.
This volume, while labeled "Accessions 1792," is not an accessions list, but a catalog of the library with both print and manuscript entries. The volume clearly dates from some time in the 1830s or later.
C. Library donations, 1792-1902
D. Books taken out, 1798-1892
This subseries contains records of books borrowed by MHS members and officers.
E. Library exchanges, 1860-1895
This subseries contains records of materials exchanged with other institutions.
F. Accessions and miscellaneous library records, 1791-1901
NOTE: Removed to Box OS 1.
IV. Curatorial records, 1791-1934
This series consists of correspondence and other papers related to the acquisition of museum items, including art, numismatics, and artifacts. Because the curatorial records were not routinely saved, this series provides a limited record of curatorship at the MHS to 1900. Included are materials concerning the Society's "cabinet" (the MHS name for all museum items) in the papers of the recording and corresponding secretaries, as well as in the treasurers' correspondence. The cabinet catalog of ca. 1893-1899 contains a number of separate multi-page lists of cabinet items, starting with engravings and followed by busts and artifacts. The cabinet book (subseries C), which runs through to 1934, is probably the most complete list of acquisitions to the cabinet.
A. Miscellaneous curatorial papers and records, 1791-1914
B. Curatorial catalogs, 1809-1899
Cabinet catalog, ca. 1893-1899
This catalog contains printed entries glued into separate lists, with manuscript annotations and additions.
C. Cabinet book, 1791-1934 (manuscript)
V. Membership records, 1835-1910digital content
These records include the "nomination book" for 1835-1906, nominating committee reports of 1891-1910, and some sample membership certificates from different dates.
This bound manuscript volume contains two distinct volumes, a format that is properly termed "tête-bêche," and more informally called an "upside down book." In the physical volume, the first 31 pages contain information about Resident Members, 122 blank pages, followed by 11 pages about Corresponding Members. The pages listing Corresponding Members are written from back to front and so they appear upside down if a researcher starts browsing from the first part of the volume (about Resident Members).
This volume, while labeled "Reports on nominations, 1893-1910," actually contains reports for the years 1891-1910.
VI. Building records, 1832-1905
This series consists of miscellaneous records related to the MHS properties at Tremont Street (where the Society resided from 1833 to 1899) and Boylston Street (where the Society has resided since 1899), including plans. Also included is a scrapbook for the dedication of the new Boylston Street building, completed in 1899. The scrapbook contains a few items dating to 1905 at the end of the volume.
Included are papers and plans for 1154 Boylston Street.
VII. Editorial (publications) records, 1767-1900
This series contains lists for the distribution of the Collections and Proceedings; manuscripts prepared for publication; papers regarding transactions with the binder; a manuscript volume, apparently an index of American newspapers; MHS publications (volumes and pamphlets) arranged alphabetically by title; memoirs arranged alphabetically by subject; miscellaneous MHS publications arranged by date; and some items arranged by format. The series includes the full run of American Apollo (Vol. I, 1792); the "annotated Hubbard" (William Hubbard's A General History of New England); meeting notices; and other miscellaneous MHS publications.
Miscellaneous editorial records, 1767-1900
Miscellaneous MHS publications
American Apollo, vol. I, 1792
Meeting notices, 1828-1899
Arranged alphabetically by subject.
Arranged by format.
Included are circulars, lists, forms, etc.
This volume was disbound and glued onto pages and includes extensive manuscript annotations and additions.
VIII. Oversize materials
Massachusetts Historical Society archives, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.