Rare Book & Manuscript Library

James Harper papers, 1800-1925

Summary Information


The collection consists of diverse materials, photographs, correspondence and legal papers documenting the history of Harper family. The collection also includes books owned by members of the Harper family and books published by Harper & Brothers.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1479
Bib ID 7299068 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Harper, James, 1795-1869
Title James Harper papers, 1800-1925
Physical Description 4.59 linear feet (5 document boxes 2 record cartons 1 oversize box)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on site.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in four series.



The collection is composed of photographs, letters, diaries, legal documents, books and personal items from the estate of Helen Leale Harper Jr., great-great-grand daughter of James Harper, one of the four brothers that founded Harper & Brothers. Some of the items in the collection are albums, photographs and Bibles recording the history of Harper family in-laws-- the Copcutt, Meade, Hyde and Leale families. While part of the collection's articles document Harper firm activity, others are miscellaneous personal chronicle items as: letters, drawings, locks of hair, diaries and photographs. Some of the items of particular historic value include the marriage certificate of James Harper and Maria Arcularius, Bibles belonging to Philip Harper, James Harper and Copcutt family - with records of births, marriages and deaths in the family, and books printed by the Harper and Brothers firm in the first years of activity.

  • Series I: Photographs, circa, 1800-1920

    This series is composed of three photograph albums with typical nineteenth century photographic portraits, one recording the Harper-Hyde-Meade branch of the family and the others with portraits of the Leale- Copcutt family members. Four folders of this series contain framed pictures from the beginning of nineteenth century, portraits of Philip A. Harper, from the end of nineteenth century, and pictures of various groups of people, including members and friends of the family, from nineteenth century. Philip A Harper's folder contains pictures of family members and of the family residence in Far Rockaway. Some of the portrait pictures are captioned on the back, but the majority of the group pictures are hard to identify because of either the lack of captioning or a mere mention of a familial relationship or date and event. The folders in this series are arranged chronologically.

  • Series II: Correspondence, 1882-1952

    The items in this series are mainly personal letters of family members, some business letters and three folders of sympathy notes related to the death of James Harper, in January 1944. Two folders contain artist's Lillie Hyde Harper (1881-1941) letters addressed to her brother James, from various European countries, written while she was studying arts in France, in the 1920s. This series contains also letters from Philip a Harper to his grand-mother Maria Arcularius (founder James Harper's mother) and from Ralph Mead to his son-in-law Philip Harper. The folders in this series are also arranged chronologically.

  • Series III: Miscellaneous, 1818-1919

    This series is composed of six folders, chronologically organized, of legal papers, diaries and pamphlets, and two over-size folders holding drawings and news-papers. This series includes: Maria Arcularius's diary documenting her trip to Europe in 1835, James Harper Jr.'s baby book, from 1919 (containing a genealogical tree), locks of hair, and short notes of a personal nature. One of the pamphlets in this series is the centennial commemorative 1917 advertisement of the reprint of the first work by Harper printers, Seneca's Morals with facsimile pages from the first edition and letter with a sample reservation note from the company. This pamphlet reveals the fact that Joseph Wesley Harper and Fletcher Harper, the two younger brothers of the four founders, worked on the first printed Harper book, in 1817, as compositors. One folder of this series contains a tentative genealogical outline of one branch of Harper family and a history of family names of English origin (Harper included); the author of both documents is not mentioned. Particularly interesting and revealing, of the history of the family, are the clippings from new papers of several obituaries for the death of Philip A. Harper (a second generation); these short articles from the press of the time brings light into the complicated genealogy and succession of Harpers.

  • Series IV: Books, 1808-1916

    This series is comprised of books owned or published by the Harper Family.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); James Harper Papers; Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material-- At Columbia

Harper & Bros. Records, 1817-1929 Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Harper & Row, Publishers Records, 1935-1973. Rare Book & Manuscript Library


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Ownership and Custodial History

All items in the collection from the estate of Helen Leale Harper, Jr.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--James Cummins Booksellers. Method of acquisition--Purchase; Date of acquisition--July, 2009.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Cela Peterson, Pratt Institute School of Library and Information Science 12/2009.

Finding aid written Cela Peterson, Pratt Institute School of Library and Information Science 12/2009.

Revision Description

2010-04-07 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Bible records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Harper, James, 1795-1869 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Harper, Lillie Hyde, 1881-1941 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Literature publishing Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Harper & Brothers was one of most prestigious American printing houses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The original company, named J&J Harper, was established in 1817 in offices on Dover Street in New York by the two eldest of the four Harper brothers, James and John. The brothers were the sons of an English Methodist schoolmaster and carpenter who settled in Newtown, New York in 1740. Though James and John started the company, other members of the Harper family soon became involved in the business. After being apprentices for several years, the two younger brothers, Joseph Wesley and Fletcher, were included into the firm, which became in 1833 Harper Brothers with offices and printing house at 81 and 82 Cliff Street, New York. James, the eldest of the brothers, was perceived as the nominal head of the company while Fletcher was recognized as the authentic head of the business. James was the initiator of Harper's Magazine while Fletcher controlled the business and was responsible for the Weekly and the Bazaar. In 1844 James was also elected mayor of New York. He was a prominent figure of New York political life and enjoyed an exceptional repute. He died in a carriage accident in 1869.

After the death or retirement of the founders, the sons and grand-sons of the original Harper brothers continued their legacy. The later generations continued the tradition of coordinating the business as a family company under the strict rule of non acceptance of partners unrelated with the family. Until the middle of the twentieth century the company remained under the sole authority of the Harper family descendents. As directly instructed by Fletcher, the youngest of the first four initiators of the firm, all the sons entering the family business had to receive the highest education and after traveling through Europe for the purpose of learning foreign languages they had to enter the composition room. Under the direction of the foreman they had to learn to set a page as any compositor in the office and be able to earn a living in case of any vicissitudes.

In 1896, at the death of the last survivor of the second generation of Harpers, Philip Jacob Arcularius, the firm was under the control of seven cousins, each with separate responsibilities in a distinct department. Philip, born on October 21st 1824 was the son of James, one of the four founders of the company. He married Harriet Meade (Hyde) on June 30th 1846 and had a son James born in 1847. James married Lillie Mercein (Hyde) and had a son James Harper Jr. (1879 -1944) and a daughter Lillie Hyde Harper (1881-1941). James Harper Jr. married Helen Leale and had a son, James Harper (Jamie) born on 4th of July 1919. The present collection reflects mainly the lives of these members of Harper family and of the families related to them.