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Roberts Brothers collection

Identifier: Roberts Brothers collection


The Roberts Brothers collection contains manuscript correspondence, miscellaneous manuscripts, and printed ephemera relating to the Boston literary publishing firm of Roberts Brothers. Also includes ten photographic albums produced and sold by Roberts Brothers. Some of the albums may date to the American Civil War.


  • 1863-1904

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the John M.K. Davis Reading Room of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College Library, Hartford, Connecticut. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws when using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Digital surrogates may be provided to researchers, in accordance with the duplication policy of the Watkinson Library.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information (e.g. social security numbers) in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.

Biographical / Historical

The firm of Roberts Brothers began with Lewis Augustus Roberts (1833-1901), who, after emigrating from England, established a bookbinding business in Boston in 1840. Upon expansion, the firm included his two brothers, John and Austin. The bookbinding business eventually was sold in 1859. In 1862 during the Civil War, with the growing interest in the new medium of photography, the brothers began manufacturing and selling photographic albums and soon added job printing. Interested in getting into publishing, Lewis Roberts, who was the firm’s principal and handled its finances, hired Thomas Niles (1825-1894) as editor in 1863. Niles was particularly well suited for this position, having worked for famed Boston literary publisher Ticknor and Fields and at one time having run his own publishing company. His skill and his knowledge of the book market were invaluable, and the firm’s publishing venture flourished. In 1872, Niles was made a partner in the firm.

Roberts Brothers’ first great publishing success was an edition of the Poems of the English poet Jean Ingelow, little known today but in her time almost as popular as Tennyson. Notable books that followed included the first editions of leading American authors such Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868-1869), Little Men (1871) and many other publications, Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona (1884), and the Poems of Emily Dickinson (1890). Among British authors, the firm published the first American edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1884) as well as works of William Morris, Christina and Dante Rossetti, and Oscar Wilde. The sudden death of Niles from a heart attack while in Italy in 1894 led in a few years to the demise of Roberts Brothers, since he was the firm’s brains and driving force.


1 Cubic Feet (2 flat boxes containing 8 photo albums (mostly empty) and 1 flat box containing 10 file folders.) ; 1 flat box (15.25"L x 10.25"W x 3"H) equals .27 cubic feet (as defined by UNLV Archives Calculator) 1 flat box (12.25"L x 10.25"W x 3"H) equals .22 cubic feet (as defined by UNLV Archives Calculator)

Language of Materials



Collection is arranged by material type. There are four series.

Series 1: Correspondence (arranged alphabetically by author with descriptive notes) Series 2: Miscellaneous Manuscripts Series 3: Ephemera Series 4: Albums

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was donated by John William Pye (Trinity Class of 1970) on November 16, 2004.

Related Materials

The Watkinson Library also contains a collection of approximately 1,300 titles of Roberts Brothers' imprints (books), donated in 2008 by John William Pye '70. A list of these Roberts Brothers printed works is available upon request at the Watkinson Library. The individual book titles can be searched through the Trinity OneSearch catalog.


Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States. Volume II, The Expansion of an Industry, 1865-1919. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1975.

Kilgour, Raymond Lincoln. Messrs. Roberts Brothers Publishers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1952.
Guide to the Roberts Brothers collection
Amy FitzGerald, using a Microsoft-Word finding aid originally prepared for electronic publication by Matthew Mitchell and J.H. Kaimowitz in February/March 2005.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Watkinson Library - Archival Collections Repository

Trinity College Library
300 Summit St.
Hartford Connecticut 06106