Scope and arrangement
The papers reflect Van Vechten's social life and professional career as a writer, photographer and patron of the arts. The papers also document Van Vechten's literary and artistic circle of friends and colleagues. As an avid collector, Van Vechten retained the letters of prominent individuals who corresponded with him including Ralph Barton, James Branch Cabell, Scott Cunningham, Muriel Draper, Donald Gallup, Langston Hughes, Klaus Jonas, Bruce Kellner, Edward Jablonski, Mabel Dodge Luhan, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, Florine Stettheimer and Ettie Stettheimer. The papers are also rich in photographs taken by Carl Van Vechten of prominent individuals and in 19th century photographs of his family in Iowa. The multiple editions of Van Vechten's monographs and the monographs of others add to the diversity of the papers. Many of the monographs are autographed by the authors.
The Carl Van Vechten Papers (1833-1965) span his life from early childhood to his career as an author and photographer, patron of African-American artists during the Harlem Renaissance, and philanthropist. The collection is representative of Van Vechten's career as a prolific writer of both letters and monographs. This point is particularly evident in two sections of the papers: the letters between Van Vechten and his wife the actress Fania Marinoff (1912-1961), and also in the section of the papers pertaining to letters he received pertaining to his writings. Van Vechten was also a well known cultural figure with numerous social, literary and scholarly colleagues and friends, and he had wide ranging interests in fine arts, literature, music, photography and theatre.
As is evident from the General Correspondence and the Correspondence Pertaining To Publications By Van Vechten, Van Vechten was a popular and well-known individual. The General Correspondence highlights his generosity for establishing endowments for educational and cultural centers e. g. Yale University - James Weldon Johnson Collection and also for his contributions to cultural institutions e. g Institute of Arts and Letters' The Academy of Arts and Letters. The Correspondence Pertaining to Publications by Carl Van Vechten focuses on the public response to his publications. For example, the novel Tattooed Countess was adapted as a silent movie in 1925 titled A Woman of The World (the movie stills are located in Photographs boxes 171-172). Van Vechten notes with the photographs indicate that he hated the movie. In 1961, the Tattooed Countess was adapted as an off Broadway musical. The critics condemned it. Correspondents within Van Vechten's literary circle included Ralph Barton, James Branch Cabell, Scott Cunningham, Muriel Draper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Donald Gallup, Langston Hughes (Van Vechten promoted his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues), Jacob Jablonski, Klaus Jonas, Bruce Kellner (author of Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades), A. A. Knopf (Van Vechten's publisher), Sinclair Lewis, Mabel Dodge Luhan, W. S. Maugham, H. L. Mencken, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, Florine Stettheimer, Henrietta Stettheimer, Gertrude Stein, Hugh Walpole.
The papers also contain many personal letters between Van Vechten and his second wife Fania Marinoff (1912-1961), located in the Family Correspondence. The Family Correspondence also contains extensive documentation of Van Vechten's side of the family; Fania Marinoff's family is represented to a much smaller extent. Family correspondence includes papers of Van Vechten's cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, correspondence and financial and legal especially his brother Ralph Van Vechten. The papers also contain letters written to Van Vechten when he was imprisoned in Ludlow Street Jail (1915) for non-payment of alimony to his first wife Ann Snyder, and the divorce letters and documents of Van Vechten vs. Van Vechten.
Van Vechten own financial papers consist mainly of correspondence with several banks including the Cedar Rapids Bank (1917-1934) at which his brother Ralph was chairman and nephew Van Vechten Schaffer was vice-president. Other financial documents include cancelled checks, income tax (1918-1956), receipts and royalty reports from published monographs. The legal documents consist mostly of insurance policies and some legal correspondence and other assorted documents.
The literary manuscripts represent almost the full range of Van Vechten's published works with regard to his published books. The manuscripts are annotated typescripts and many of the manuscripts are supplemented with drafts and page proofs. An oral history conducted by Columbia University (1960) offers insight into the personality and life of Van Vechten. The remainder consist of miscellaneous manuscripts, address books, date books, diaries (1901-02, 1922-30), notebooks and miscellaneous writings of other authors.
The printed material represents a fourth of the collection. It contains an odd assortment of serials, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings (1906-1955, 30 volumes) and monographs. Van Vechten's books were often published in several editions. The collection also contains autographed monographs from other authors with Carl Van Vechten introductions including Langston Hughes The Weary Blues, The Gershwin Years by Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart, and Giselle and I by Alicia Markova.
The visual material consists largely of photographs of Van Vechten from his childhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa through adulthood. Family photographs include images of Van Vechten's wife Fania Marinoff, his grandparents, immediate family and other relatives. The pictures also illustrate Van Vechten's career and social activities with literary, scholarly and artistic colleagues and friends, including Diahann Carroll, Geoffrey Holder (wedding pictures), Bruce Kellner, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein. Besides portraits of individuals, Van Vechten photographed street scenes in New York City. While Van Vechten is probably best known for the many pictures he took of others, he also made many self portraits from the early 1930s to the 1950s. These photographs are supplemented by portraits of Van Vechten taken by others including Saul Mauriber his photographic assistant. The visual material also includes posters and slides of Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff on their vacation trips.
The Carl Van Vechten papers are arranged in fourteen series:
- circa 1912-19656.3 linear feet
Contains incoming letters to Carl Van Vechten in his capacity as an author, critic and photographer. There are some replies. Many of the letters are from men and women with whom he maintained both professional and personal relationships. The correspondence is also reflective of Van Vechten's generosity as a donor of his manuscripts and photographs to cultural and academic institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Princeton University; Museum of Costume Art, New York City (Carl Van Vechten donations included 125 ties!); Museum of the City of New York, Theatre Collection; The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA); The National Institution of Arts and Letters, The Academy of Arts and Letters; Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection of Negro Arts and the New York Public Library. Prominent correspondents include James Branch Cabell, Edward Choate, Scott Cunningham, Elsie Langdon Caskey, Coleman Dowell, Georgia O'Keeffe, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Klaus W. Jonas, Edward Jablonski, H. L. Mencken, Florine Stettheimer and Ettie Stettheimer. An Index to Selected Correspondents is located at the end of the inventory.
- 6.6 linear feet
The Family Correspondence is arranged into two sections 1) Incoming Correspondence to Carl Van Vechten from Fania Marinoff, 1912-1961 (Containers 26-32); 2) Outgoing Correspondence From Carl Van Vechten to Fania Marinoff, 1915-1961 (Containers 33-43). Each section is arranged chronologically. The correspondence chronicles the personal lives of both Fania Marinoff and Carl Van Vechten. It was generated during Marinoff's constant travel as an actress and to a lesser extent from Van Vechten's career as a writer. In general, the writers discuss daily activities, work, friends, colleagues and family. Many of Marinoff's letters were written from the various stops of the theatrical company she was travelling with. The letters include reminiscences, remarks about fellow thespians, plays she had seen and reactions to news relayed by Van Vechten. Van Vechten's letters to Marinoff also recount the progress of his career writing, reactions to the reviews of the plays Marinoff appeared in and their mutual colleagues and friends.
- Series IV. Family Correspondence: Letters to Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff from Other Family members1880-19552.7 linear feet
Contains letters mainly to Van Vechten from his extended family and to a lesser extent letters from Fania Marinoff's family. The subjects are mostly family related, with relatives recounting their daily lives. Correspondents include Van Vechten's uncle Charles Lewis Fitch who began to write letters to Van Vechten at the latter's birth and his cousin Elizabeth Hull Schaffer. Other correspondents represented include Maya Nafziger, Ada Fitch Neyland, Angevine Schaffer, Emma Van Vechten Shaffer and Charles Duane Van Vechten (Carl Van Vechten's father). There is some overlap of financial correspondence between Series IV and Series VI (Financial Papers) with regard to Charles Duane Van Vechten, who was a general agent for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); Van Vechten Shaffer, who was vice-president of the Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); and Van Vechten's brother Ralph who was president at the Cedar Rapids National Bank and the Continental & Commercial National Bank (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).
- 1833-19623.2 linear feet
This section contains Van Vechten's anniversary greetings (1922-1959), Marinoff's birthday greetings 1931-1940, and Van Vechten's birthday greetings (1941-1962). The letters received by Van Vechten when he was imprisoned at Ludlow Prison (1915) are letters of support from family and friends. Van Vechten's brother Ralph offered advice with regard to Van Vechten's dispute with his wife Anna Snyder but he made it clear that he did not want his name dragged into the affair. Related to the prison letters are the divorce letters and documents of Van Vechten vs. Van Vechten (1912). The remaining papers in this section are correspondence between other family members (not including Van Vechten and Marinoff), miscellaneous correspondence (1907-1945) and unidentified correspondents.
- 1904-19605.2 linear feet
The series consists of papers and documents relating to the various financial institutions Van Vechten had interest in (Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. and the Continental & Commercial National Bank), income tax statements (1918-1957), receipts (1904-1956), invoices and royalty statements, account books, bank books, check books and copyrights. See also: Consult Series IV Van Vechten Shaffer and Charles Duane Van Vechten.
- 1916-19612.8 linear feet
- 16.3 linear feet
The bulk of the writings consist of literary manuscripts by Carl Van Vechten. Many of these manuscripts are typescripts and they are annotated; some of the manuscripts are accompanied by page proofs. The literary manuscripts include among others Blind-Bow Boy, In The Garrett, Interpreters and Interpretations, Nigger Heaven, Parties, Spider Boy, Peter Whiffle, The Tattooed Countess and Tiger In The House. There are also some early miscellaneous writings of Carl Van Vechten including prefaces to monographs, plays and poems. A typescript of Carl Van Vechten's oral history conducted by Columbia University (1960), address books, date books, notebooks and music sheets complete Van Vechten's writings. The remainder is manuscripts by other authors, including Coleman Dowell adaptation of the Tattooed Countess (1951), Charles Lewis Fitch's writings and miscellaneous papers relating to Van Vechten family genealogy.
- 68.3 linear feet
Consists of musical compositions, assorted serials, newspaper clippings, dust covers, monographs by Van Vechten and monographs by other authors. There are usually a number of additions for each of Van Vechten's monographs; some are annotated drafts with corrections, others are special editions. The monographs also reflect some of the various European languages into which Van Vechten's works were translated. Books by other authors are equally well represented. Many of these monographs were presented to Van Vechten as tokens of friendship and are signed by the authors. Consult the separate index for monographs by Carl Van Vechten and other authors.
- 1906-195516 linear feet; 30 volumes
Contain newspaper clippings reflecting events of interest Van Vechten. Prepared and arranged by Van Vechten, the scrapbooks hold reviews, published photographs of Van Vechten and Marinoff, publicity and advertisements for books, quotes and references to Van Vechten and reviews of his photography. Van Vechten mounted and annotated the clippings. The articles are identified as to their source and date of publication.
- circa 1890-196028 linear feet
Photographs reflect a wide variety of subjects. The bulk of the photographs are pictures of Carl Van Vechten from childhood to adulthood. The family photographs are pictures of Van Vechten's grandparents, parents, brother, sister and other relatives. Photographs of Fania Marinoff include pictures of her at various social settings, on stage in costume and with Carl Van Vechten. There are also studio portraits of Carl Van Vechten with noted literary and artistic individuals. Van Vechten was photographed by many individuals most notably by Saul Mauriber. Other individuals who photographed Van Vechten include: James Allen, Bruce Kellner, Alfred Knopf and Mark Lutz.
The artifacts (Containers 186-188) 14 linear ft. are a miscellaneous assortments of fabric, buttons and unrelated material; the remainder of the artifacts (Containers 195-206) are empty manuscript containers. The posters (2 linear ft) are advertisements used to promote Van Vechten's books.
- 2 linear feet
Slides of Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff; vacation and related subjects.
There are three records (.2 linear ft.) : (1) 5th Capezio Dance Award Luncheon 7 March 1956 (talk by John Martin and Carl Van Vechten, 2 sides); (2) Poems from James Weldon Johnson's Gods Trombones interpreted by Harold Scott, the Montclair Gospel Chorale, Saffel Huggs, director (2 sides, United Artists Records, Inc. 1958 promotional copy 33 1/3 rpm); (3) Yvette Gilbert 33 1/3 microgroove, Angel Records 1954. Arrangements must be made in advance in order to listen to the recordings.