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Collection Overview

Collins, Varnum Lansing, 1870-1936
Varnum Lansing Collins Papers
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
11 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-11


Varnum Lansing Collins was a Princeton alum of the Class of 1893 and served as the University's Secretary from 1917 to 1936. Throughout his life Collins exhibited a special interest in Princeton's history and he authored a number of works relating to that theme. The Varnum Lansing Collins Papers consist primarily of materials generated by Collins while writing several of his most well-known works on Princeton history.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The Varnum Lansing Collins Papers consist primarily of materials generated by Collins while writing several of his most well-known works on Princeton history. The papers include manuscripts, notes, correspondence, and research materials consisting of both original documents and facsimiles. Also included in the papers are materials pertaining to Collins' personal life, such as undergraduate scrapbooks and correspondence with friends and well-wishers.

Please see series descriptions in contents list for additional information about individual series.

Collection Creator Biography:

Collins, Varnum Lansing, 1870-1936

Varnum Lansing Collins served as Princeton University's Secretary from 1917 to 1936. Collins wrote several books on Princeton's history.

Born in Hong Kong, Collins obtained his education in Paris and London before coming to Princeton as a member of the class of 1892. As an undergraduate, he was editor of The Nassau Literary Magazine, president of the Cliosophic Society, leader of the Glee Club, and a member of the Triangle Club. After receiving an Honorary A.M. from Princeton in 1895, Collins worked in the University Library as a reference librarian until he joined the faculty of the Department of Modern Languages in 1906. He was made full professor six years later and assumed the position of clerk of the faculty—a position he held until 1935. Collins also served as the secretary of the Graduate Council from 1917 until 1927 and was an instrumental figure during the years that the Council successfully conducted its $2,000,000 campaign for faculty salaries.

In 1917 he became University secretary and served in this role for nineteen years. When ill health forced Collins to retire in 1936, the Board accepted his resignation "with regret" and named him Historiographer to Princeton University. Collins had written a number of books on Princeton history, notably a biography of President John Witherspoon, a history of Princeton, and a guide to the town and the University. His love and knowledge of Princeton led to the grassroots development of the University Archives. Named editor of the General Catalogue/Biographical Catalogue in 1906, he compiled files on alumni and on possible, doubtful, and fraudulent "alumni" that have been used by researchers ever since. As secretary he began what is now known as the Historical Subject Files, a collection of Princeton history, lore, and trivia organized by subject.

Collection History


It would appear that these papers were given to the Manuscript Division of the Special Collections, most likely by V. Lansing Collins himself. At some later point they were transferred to the University Archives where they became part of the Princetoniana Collection of books and manuscripts.


No further additions to the Varnum Lansing Collins Papers are expected.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Daniel Brennan in May 2009.. Finding aid written by Daniel Brennan in in May 2009.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. If copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers will not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with non-commercial use of materials from the Mudd Library. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Varnum Lansing Collins Papers; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-11

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Related Materials

The Library also holds a faculty and undergraduate alumni file for Collins, and four scrapbooks created by Collins as an undergraduate can be found in the Scrapbook Collection. Series 7 of the Office of the Secretary Records documents Varnum Lansing Collins' role as the Secretary of the University, and the Nassau Hall Iconography Collection is the location of all visual materials which are discussed in series 3 of the papers. All of the published works by V. L. Collins for which the notes and research materials can be found in the papers (excepting several unpublished pieces) are held in the Princetoniana Collection.

Subject Terms:
Nassau Hall (Princeton, N.J.)
Princeton University
Collins, Varnum Lansing, 1870-1936
Witherspoon, John, 1723-1794