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   James Harper Papers, 1800-1925.

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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.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

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#1495
Bib ID:7299068 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Harper, James, 1795-1869
Title:James Harper Papers, 1800-1925.
Physical description:4.59 linear ft. (5 document boxes 2 record cartons 1 oversize box)
Language(s): Material is in English.
Access: This collection is located on site. This collection has no restrictions.  More information »



This collection is arranged in four series:

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Scope and Content

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.

Subseries IV.1: Books owned by Harper Family, 1808-1916

Sub-series IV.1 Books owned by members of Harper family. This sub-series contains two categories of books: general knowledge and bibles, from as early as 1808 to 1912. The general knowledge books are of various subjects as children’s book, Italian grammar, or Shakespeare and the Precious Stones (signed by the author). The three Bibles belonging to James Harper, Philip Harper and Copcutt family contain some record notes of births, marriages and deaths in the family.

Subseries IV.3: Books printed by Harper & Brothers, 1817-1896

Sub-series IV.3 Books printed by J&J Harper and Harper & Brothers. The topics of the six books that constitute this sub-series also varies from geography to geology, fairy-tales to Christian philosophy. The books date from 1817 to 1893, and illustrate the craftsmanship of the printing enterprise founded by Harper brothers.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

This collection is located on site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; 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

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

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

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

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion April 7, 2010 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-04-07 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz.

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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.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Bible records.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Harper, James, 1795-1869.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Harper, Lillie Hyde, 1881-1941.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Literature Publishing.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

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.

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