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Collection Overview

Putnam, George Palmer, 1814-1872
George Palmer Putnam Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1813-1888 (mostly 1853-1855)
12 boxes
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-12


Consists primarily of authors' correspondence, accompanied by related artwork, pertaining to G.P. Putnam & Co.'s publishing enterprise from before the Civil War. In addition to the correspondence and a scrapbook of miscellaneous material, the collection contains drafts of articles intended for the anthology Homes of American Authors (1853), as well as manuscript material by George Bethune and Francis Hawks.

Collection Description & Creator Information


The George Palmer Putnam Collection contains correspondence, a scrapbook, manuscripts, and artwork pertaining to George Palmer Putnam's publishing enterprise from before the Civil War. There are approximately 1650 letters, 17 manuscripts, and more than 50 artworks in the collection. The correspondence originally fell into five distinct sections, four of which were organized alphabetically, and one randomly, in scrapbooks. The first part was marked "Private," although there is a mixture of private and professional letters in it. The artwork depicts the writers of particular letters and sometimes their homes as well. Fifteen of the manuscripts are drafts of descriptive and anecdotal articles by various authors (still in part unidentified) for Putnam's 1853 publication entitled Homes of American Authors. There are letters by the authors represented in this publication in the correspondence series.


In addition to more letters, this scrapbook contains miscellaneous material. Each of the original subseries of correspondence which was dismounted remains intact, arranged alphabetically.

Collection Creator Biography:

Putnam, George Palmer, 1814-1872

Publisher George Palmer Putnam (1814-1872), a self-taught genius from Maine, began his independent publishing enterprise in 1848 in New York City, after working for a bookseller and other publishers there, starting in 1829 (at the age of fifteen). Among his chief concerns as a publisher were the promotion of American literature the establishment of international copyright regulations.

During the years he worked in England, 1841-1847, while still John Wiley's partner (1841-1847) Putnam realized that the book market on both sides of the Atlantic was for English authors. Putnam and Wiley tried to promote interest in American literature by publishing such works as Caroline Kirkland's books about the West, e.g. Western Clearings (1845) and Herman Melville's first novel Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846). When Putnam broke up with Wiley in 1848 he kept the literary part of their trade list. The two had developed different priorities. Putnam's interest in publishing American literature no longer suited Wiley, who had developed a preference for technological and scientific works.

Already as Wiley's partner, Putnam had concerned himself with the need for copyright legislation. He and Wiley were the first American publishing firm to offer royalties to the author, in direct opposition to the more common practice among American publishers of selling piracies. Putnam fought for copyright legislation throughout his career. His son George Haven Putnam at the end of his biography of his father says that the copyright struggle exhausted him and may have caused his early death in 1872.

Two of the first authors to be published by Putnam, as an independent publisher, were Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, Putnam cultivated ties with all the American authors now considered part of the canon of 19th century literature, such as James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Henry Dana, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as with many still awaiting evaluation.

Putnam began publication of Putnam's Monthly Magazine in 1853. He drafted a survey letter to be sent to potential contributors, a copy of which is preserved in the scrapbook. It reads like a manifesto on behalf of American literary and intellectual history.

The financial crisis that struck the nation in 1857 together with the revelation of dishonest financial dealings within his staff forced Putnam to suspend publication of his magazine and assign his business to another company. Fortunately his good friend Washington Irving bought up and then sold back to him at cost the stereotypes of his books, so that Putnam could resume his business. Other authors were inspired by this to retain their contracts with Putnam, and within the year his publishing enterprise was flourishing again.

However, business slowed down with the outbreak of the Civil War. Putnam was forced to turn his trade list over to the firm of Hurd & Houghton which sold his books on commission from 1862 until 1966. During that period Putnam supported himself and his family by working as a civil servant, overseeing the eighth district of New York City for the Internal Revenue Service. He was fired by President Andrew Johnson in 1866 after refusing to pay an assessment in return for his job. In the wake of that disruption Putnam reestablished his publishing enterprise as G. P. Putnam & Son, or, as it was called after 1871, G.P. Putnam & Sons, and finally G.P. Putnam's Sons.

The magazine resumed publication in 1868, only to be merged finally with Scribner's Monthly in 1870. The publishing house as a family business endured into the 1930s, then became a division of a larger house.

Collection History


The Putnam correspondence purchased by Princeton in 1991 and 1993 had been mounted in folio-size scrapbooks, probably by G. P. Putnam's son, George Haven Putnam, in order to refer to them when writing the biography of his father, entitled George Palmer Putnam: A Memoir, Together with a Record of the Earlier Years of the Publishing House Founded by Him (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1912).


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Margaret Sherry in 1994. Finding aid written by Margaret Sherry in 1994.

For conservation purposes all letters have been dismounted and foldered, except for those in the scrapbook that was part of the 1993 purchase.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

George Palmer Putnam Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-12

Find More


Volume 14 of the Northwestern-Newberry edition of The Writings of Herman Melville includes the Melville correspondence from Princeton's George Palmer Putnam Collection. This volume has been edited and annotated, with an historical note, by Lynn Horth, revised and augmented from The Letters of Herman Melville (1960), edited by Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman.

Subject Terms:
Authors and publishers -- United States -- 19th century.
Novelists, American -- 19th century.
Publishers and publishing -- New York (State) -- New York -- 19th century.
Genre Terms:
Correspondence -- 19th century
G.P. Putnam & Co