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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00017

James Franklin Collins papers

Scope and Content

The Collins papers are divided into three series: I. Correspondence; II. Photographic materials; and III. Notes and ephemera. Materials pertain primarily to his fieldwork.


  • 1883-1942


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide one form of valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


30 linear feet (file cabinet drawer P1, 6 flat boxes, 32 small boxes)


James Franklin Collins was born on December 29, 1863 in North Anson, Maine. He was educated in Providence, Rhode Island, and went to work as a silversmith at the Gorham Manufacturing Company. He studied botany in his free time and soon gained the support of William Whitman Bailey, head of the Botany Department at Brown University, who recognized his potential as a diligent taxonomist and field researcher. In 1894 Collins was appointed curator of Brown’s Olney Herbarium.

Brown awarded Collins an honorary Ph.B. in 1898. The following year he resigned from his position at Gorham to become instructor of botany at Brown. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1905 and succeeded Bailey as head of the Botany Department in 1906, a position he held until 1911.

Between 1907 and 1911 Collins simultaneously taught at Brown and studied chestnut blight with the United States Department of Agriculture in the Office of Forest Pathology. In 1913 he was placed in charge of the new Office of Forest Pathology laboratory at Brown. He turned his attention to diagnosis and control of tree and shrub diseases and tree surgery, but continued as curator of the Olney Herbarium and lecturer in botany until his retirement in 1933.

Collins was a member in numerous scientific societies, including several local Rhode Island groups, the Josselyn Botanical Society, the Sullivant Moss Society, and the Torrey and New England Botanical Clubs. He made notable collections in Maine and in previously unexplored regions along the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, meticulously documenting his observations. Several of these trips were made with Merritt Lyndon Fernald and other prominent professional and amateur New England botanists. In recognition of his field work in Canada, the Canadian Geological Survey named Mount Collins in his honor.

Collins published over one hundred articles in scholarly journals on such topics as ferns, mosses, local floras, and chestnut blight. He continued with his studies until his death on November 14, 1940 after a long period of declining health.


Snell WH. 1942. J. Franklin Collins. Rhodora. 44(520):93-97.

Fernald ML. 1942. Contributions from the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University - No. CXLL. Incidents of Field-Work with J. Franklin Collins. Rhodora. 44(520):98-147.

Series Description

Series I: Correspondence.

This series contains letters from around 275 correspondents, dated 1883-1925; the bulk of the correspondence predates 1920. Content is primarily botanical and includes drafts and carbon copies of replies sent by Collins. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, organization, and occasionally by family; original order has been maintained.

Correspondence from Collins was added to this series at a later date. That correspondence is arranged by date and spans 1892-1942.

Major correspondents include
  1. Britton, Elizabeth Gertrude
  2. Chamberlain, Edward Blanchard
  3. Collins, Frank Shipley
  4. Deane, Walter
  5. Dunham, Elizabeth Maria
  6. Evans, Alexander William
  7. Farlow, William Gilson
  8. Fernald, Merritt Lyndon
  9. Grout, Abel Joel
  10. Holzinger, John Michael
  11. Kennedy, George Golding
  12. Macoun, John
  13. Nichols, George Elwood
  14. Rand, Edward Lothrop
  15. Smith, Annie Morrill
  16. Stevens, Mary Louise
  17. Thornton, Edward C.

Series II: Photographic materials This series is divided into three sub-series: Sub-series A. Photographs; Sub-series B. Glass plate negatives; Sub-series C. Film negatives, lantern slides, and a photograph index.

Sub-series A. Photographs. The photographs, which are mostly gelatin silver prints, are mounted in albums with captions and arranged in two numbered series: 1 to 971 and 1.1 to 582.12. The latter series has around three times the number of photographs as the former. Photographs date from around 1900-1935, with a few reproduction prints of earlier family daguerreotypes. There is also one small box of loose photographs. Four of the loose photographs are numbered: 426-12; 427-2; 435-1; 436-4. The numbered photographs correspond to the images in the albums with the same numbers. The rest are unnumbered.

Sub-series B. Glass plate negatives. The glass plate negatives correspond to the first set of photographs and are numbered from 1 to 971.

Sub-series C. Film negatives, lantern slides, and photograph index correspond to the second set of photographs and are numbered 1.1 to 582.12. The lantern slides, film negatives, and photograph index are all interfiled numerically. Unmarked images are filed at the end of this sub-series.

Subjects include
  1. Landscapes and cityscapes -- many shots of Providence and other parts of Rhode Island and small towns and countryside in Maine and Canada
  2. Field expeditions and excursions
  3. Landscape panoramas composed of snapshots pasted together, especially from field expeditions
  4. Family and friends and their homes
  5. Animals -- wild and domesticated
  6. Plants -- close-up, outdoors and indoors, including some lab experiments in seedling growth
  7. Trees -- bark, wounds, and repairs
  8. Diagrams of plants and trees and other printed material

Series III: Gaspé Peninsula trips.

This series includes a notebook from the 1906 Gaspé trip, correspondence, reports, and specimen labels related to the 1923 Gaspé trip, a plaster model of Mt. Logan, and a notebook containing notes on Salix.


Collins bequeathed his photographic negatives, prints and lantern slides pertaining to fieldwork and other botanical matters to Gray Herbarium director, Merritt Lyndon Fernald, who likely left them at the Herbarium. Collins willed his diaries, starting with the year 1883, his books, pamphlets, and additional papers to his sister, Edith W. Jenckes, to dispose of as she saw fit. A selection of these materials, including pamphlets, books, and photographs, were brought to Gray Herbarium by Fernald on October 6, 1941.

Collins gave the model of Mt. Logan to the Gray Herbarium in March 1928; it is not clear whether additional small items were acquired before or after Collins' death.

No documentation has been found on the source of the Collins correspondence. It was likely given to the Gray Herbarium by Collins before his death, since it does not include correspondence after 1925.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:

  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria 1890-1965
  2. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892
  3. Botany Libraries photograph collection
  4. Carroll William Dodge papers
  5. George Edward Davenport papers
  6. George Golding Kennedy papers
  7. Merritt Lyndon Fernald papers
  8. Walter Deane papers


This item was not found. Series: III. Gaspé Peninsula trips. Items 4. Previous location was Box AE which no longer exists. (Items 1 and 5 were missing and were in the plant list cabinet in an unlabeled folder near the "H" field notes.

Processed by:

Lynn McWhood, 1982 January.

Collins, J. Franklin (James Franklin), 1863-1940. James Franklin Collins papers, 1883-1942: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

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