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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Hyde 78

R. B. Adam papers

Papers of department store owner and book collector Robert Borthwick Adam, consisting mostly of correspondence with fellow collectors and scholars, photographic portraits, and materials relating to the published catalogs of his manuscript collection.


  • 1846-1948
  • Majority of material found within 1918-1939

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

A portion of this collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


22.5 linear feet (22 boxes and 4 volumes)

The correspondence in Series I is between Adam and various writers, scholars, book dealers, and collectors. Key correspondents include R.W. (Robert William) Chapman; A. Edward (Alfred Edward) Newton; A.S.W. (Abraham Simon Wolf) Rosenbach; and Chauncey Brewster Tinker.

The Laurence J. Gomme correspondence file in Series II all relates to the negotiations over Adam's Johnson collection after his death, from 1941 until its sale to Donald and Mary Hyde in 1948.

The bulk of the manuscripts in Series IV relate to the publication of Adam's library catalogs in 1929 and 1930. The series also contains an annotated proof of Augustine Birrell's rare Aphorisms on authors and their ways. Another important piece is Adam's annotated copy of George Birkbeck Norman Hill's Index to Boswell's Life of Johnson, used for organizing Adam's extra-illustrated sets of Johnsoniana.

Most of the photographs in Series V are portraits of Adam's friends and correspondents. Many are inscribed with greetings to Adam.

The printing plates in Series VII are the largest portion of the collection by volume.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Borthwick Adam was a prominent manuscript collector. He was born in England in 1863 as Robert Borthwick Adam Scott, son of John Scott and Jean (Adam) Scott. In 1872, he was brought to Buffalo, N.Y, and adopted by his uncle, Robert Borthwick Adam (1833-1904), a prosperous department store owner. He assumed his uncle's name and eventually inherited the department store, as well as a substantial collection of British rare books and literary manuscripts, many of them relating to Samuel Johnson. Adam published a four-volume catalog of his private library. By his wife Lena Benjamin Stevens Adam, he had two daughters, Harriet (Adam) (Black) Servis, and Florence (Adam) Conrad; and one son, Robert Borthwick Adam III (1918-1993). Adam died in 1940, and his Johnson collection was sold by his children to Donald and Mary Hyde in 1948.


Arranged into the following series:
  1. Series I: Correspondence
  2. Series II: Files of Laurence J. Gomme
  3. Series III: Financial records
  4. Series IV: Manuscripts
  5. Series V: Miscellaneous
  6. Series VI: Photographs
  7. Series VII: Printing plates

Physical Location

Hyde Back Stacks, Harvard Depository


The bulk of this collection was probably acquired from the Adam estate along with his Johnson collection by Donald and Mary Hyde in 1948. At least six other lots were apparently added by Mary Hyde at a later date. Series II, the Laurence J. Gomme correspondence, was purchased from Gomme in 1971. The photocopied 1928 July 21 letter was acquired from Robert D. Fleck, the owner of the original, in 1983 Feb. The photocopied letters from Adam to A.S.W. Rosenbach were acquired in 1983 Jun 24. The photograph of R.B. and Lena Adam in front of their Buffalo home was a gift from R.B. Adam III in 1983 Sept. The photocopied letters to and from Belle da Costa Greene were made from the archives of the Pierpont Morgan Library, and given by Robert Parks on 1997 May 22. The letters from Adam to A.E. Newton dated 1918-1920 were added at an unknown date.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003JM-33 (part), 2003JM-36, 2003JM-71, 2003JM-207, and 2003JM-234

Bequest of Mary Hyde Eccles, Four Oaks Farm, Somerville, New Jersey; received: 2004.

Mary Hyde Eccles, "Adam, Tinker, and Newton," in Mary Hyde Eccles: A Miscellany of her Essays and Addresses (New York: Grolier Club, 2002), 193-247.

General note

The majority of this collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Rick Stattler and Alyson E. Reichgott
Link to catalog
Adam, R. B. (Robert Borthwick), 1863-1940. R. B. Adam papers, 1846-1948: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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