Scope and arrangement
The Century Company records date from 1870 to the 1930s. Correspondence makes up the bulk of the collection and consists mainly of letters from contributors, or potential contributors to the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, and interoffice correspondence and memoranda. Civil War material consists of correspondence, manuscripts, proofs, lists, memoranda, and printed matter emanating from the Century "War Series" and the resulting book, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Manuscripts and Proofs contains complete manuscripts, drafts, galleys, and some correspondence. The St. Nicholas materials include correspondence, manuscripts, and vouchers for payments to authors for the juvenile magazine. An additional small amount of correspondence relates to the Century's series on the Spanish-American War, and Robert Underwood Johnson's and the Century's efforts to promote the conservation of Yosemite National Park. Editorial and Administrative Files contain lists, memoranda, and correspondence grouped thematically. Permit books, 1904-1924, contain correspondence, reproductions, and receipts recording permissions to reproduce art and text.
Taken as a whole, the collection contains a wealth of biographical information and provides a picture of the developing trends in the publishing industry from the 1880s through the progressive era. Letters from readers give insight into the critical reception, values, ideals and prejudices of educated, largely urban dwelling readers of the time, but also of subscribers in rural areas, England, and other countries. Commentary in the letters demonstrate the esteem with which the Century Magazine was held by the literary public and the view that an article printed in the magazine was seen as being granted admission into the American Academy. Annotations and memos by the staff, often candid, give a valuable insight into the personalities and perspectives of the editors and their first reactions to the content of letters and manuscript material.
Correspondents and contributors include Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Washington Cable, Andrew Carnegie, Anne Warner (French), Paul Laurence Dunbar, Washington Gladden, George Kennan, Edna Kenton, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jacob August Riis, Augustus St. Gaudens, Nikolas Tesla, Mariana (Griswold) Van Rensselaer, Booker T. Washington and Edith Wharton.
Some material in the Correspondence Series and many items in the Civil War Series dating from before July 1888 have fire, smoke, and/or water damage.
The Century Company records are arranged in eight series:
Series I consists of correspondence with contributors, or potential contributors to the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, and makes up the bulk of the collection. The files, arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent, largely contain incoming letters. However copies and originals of outgoing correspondence are present. Files also contain manuscripts, galleys (both master and author), page proofs, photographs, illustrations, booklets, and circulars.
In some cases, files hold material emanating from the company’s other publications, such as St. Nicholas magazine, as in the William Fayal Clarke file. Interoffice correspondence and memoranda are filed under the names of editors and other Century staff, including Richard Watson Gilder, Robert Underwood Johnson, Clarence Clough Buel, William Webster Ellsworth, Sophie Bledsoe Herrick, Alexander Drake, and Timothy Cole. Some annotations by office staff are in shorthand.
The Century magazine, and the subsequent books published from its serialized articles, were popular with a largely middle to upper-middle class readership. Correspondents include major writers, literary agents, civic and religious figures, scientists, inventors, and artists. Some larger files span a decade or more and show the development of relationships between editors and the author on a business and personal level, such as Mariana Van Rensselaer, André Castaigne, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, and Anne Warner French.
Correspondence illuminates the thoughts, reasoning, and process for editorial decision making, whilst annotations and notes on letters from editorial staff to one another provide candid insights into the philosophy and values of the editors and also the pragmatic side of internal office workings. Gilder and Johnson, published poets themselves, meticulously revised and edited contributions of verse. This is evidenced in the letters from authors giving their reasons for rejecting or acquiescing to editorial suggestions. Some files include manuscript proofs that contain the blue-pencil markups of the editors, but their efforts are primarily documented in the letters of the authors, which are largely approving and appreciative. Gilder’s editorial style took consideration of reader’s sensibilities, often editing manuscripts for taste and standards, removing suggestive or potentially contentious matter.
Correspondence with literary agents such as Flora May Holly, Jeanette Gilder (Richard Watson Gilder’s sister), and A. P. Watt; and publishers such as Henry Holt & Co.; Houghton, Mifflin & Co.; McClure’s; and Curtis Brown document the nature and functioning of the marketplace for literary works in North America at the turn of the century. Watt’s file contains letters and telegrams offering material and negotiating terms for authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and Brett Harte. Such correspondence includes discussion on pricing and rights, author attitudes to editorial suggestions, and illuminates editorial decision-making via memos from staff to one another as annotations on letters.
The changing political and social values of the time and the handling of those concerns by a major mainstream literary publication are documented in correspondence with civic reform leaders, religious and charity groups, scientists, and politicians. Critical reception of certain articles, editorials and editorial choices are documented in incoming letters, for example from W. E. B. Du Bois, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Edna Kenton. Articles such as “Taking the Ambition out of the Working Man” which criticized labor union movements; and “Militant Women and Women” on feminism and the suffrage movement garnered many positive and negative responses that are scattered throughout this series.
Correspondence with scientists and inventors document the editors' efforts to solicit articles on notable new inventions and discoveries. Examples include the Wright Brothers and Alexander Graham Bell on early flight experiments; Louis Boutan on underwater and John G. Doughty on aerial photography; and Thomas Edison on the kineto-phonograph.
The editors' exacting concerns with style, format, and reproduction of images are evident in correspondence with the Century Company’s printer De Vinne Press, including discussions of grammar and usage, layouts, typeface choices, and printing rates. The importance of visual aesthetics to the editors and the control they sought to exert on the finished product is apparent in correspondence with contributing artists such as Joseph Pennell, Timothy Cole, Andre Castaigne, and Thornton Oakley.
Correspondence with experts in various fields, to whom the magazine sent unpublished manuscripts for review, demonstrates the lengths to which the editors went in ensuring factual accuracy, including in fiction and poetry. This is documented in the correspondence of Henry Fairfield Osborn, William James Stillman, Okakura Kakuzo, and Worthington Chauncey Ford among others. Some author files contain complaints and corrections of articles by these third party experts, often alongside the author’s objections to or acceptance of criticisms. These are especially evident with subjects that generated strong opinion such as events surrounding the Civil War and the Century’s related series of 1884-1887.
Gilder and Johnson's sympathy with various progressive era institutions and associations is documented through letters from charity groups, government commissions, societies, and clubs that were active during this era, such as the New York Association for the Blind, of which Gilder was the president. A number of files contain correspondence from such associations soliciting magazine space, endorsement by the editors, or money, as in letters from representatives of the Red Cross Society, the International Peace Forum, and Women's Suffrage Associations.
This series contains character references that were requested by the magazine before publishing an unknown writer’s work, and are usually filed under the author's name. There are also a number of letters from family members or managers of estates of literary figures, and participants in the Civil War, offering their diaries, letters, and other original documents.
Editorship of the magazine changed hands several times after 1913. Succeeding Johnson was Robert Sterling Yard who left after one year, then Douglas Z. Doty who remained until 1918 and was followed by Thomas H. Smith and W. Morgan Shuster, each staying only one year, then Glen Frank, and Hewitt H. Howland. Yard and Doty expressed their intentions to change the editorial direction of the magazine in letters to contributors, and also in published editorials. The reactions to these changes are reflected in letters from readers and writers, and in annotations and correspondence from staff.
Years in parentheses indicate birth and death dates. Documents dating from before July 1888 may have fire, smoke and/or water damage.
Series II consists of correspondence, manuscripts, proofs, notes, lists, memoranda, and printed matter emanating from the Century "War Series" and the resulting book, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Most of the material dates from 1885 to 1891.
Series III contains handwritten, signed manuscripts that were submitted to Scribner's Monthly or the Century Magazine. Many of the manuscripts were not published by the Century Company and may be marked as “dead.” These files may contain amendments and commentary from manuscript readers and editors concerning the works, documenting the exercise of tight editorial control. Notable contributors in this series include Josiah Gilbert Holland, Saxe Holm (Helen Hunt Jackson), Washington Gladden, Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Jacob Riis, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward, and Mary Eleanor Freeman (Wilkins).
A portion of the heavily edited manuscript of Horace Porter's Campaigning With Grant, which was published as a book by the Century Company in 1897, is filed at the end of the series.
Material with no note of authorship is found at the end of the series. Many items are undated and the approximate dates of “circa 1870-1900” has been given. Files beginning with “T” or “U” were not received by the library.
Series IV contains correspondence, manuscripts, and vouchers for St. Nicholas, the Century Company’s magazine for children. The majority of the files date from 1917 to 1918. This series holds letters from juvenile readers that were edited for printing in the magazine’s “Letter Box” segment. Correspondence includes copies of responses from the magazine and show editorial processes such as fact checking (even for fictional material) and payment amounts. A focus on America’s involvement in World War I and the wartime roles young people could play in the military effort is reflected in most of the submissions and letters in this series, both from authors and young readers.
Government censorship and official approval of war-related material is discussed in correspondence with authors, such as Mary Graham Bonner and R. P. Crawford. Notable names in this series include John T. Trowbridge, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward, Carolyn Wells, and Augusta Huiell Seaman. Some files include illustrations and photographs.
The Spanish-American War Series of articles (1899-1901), modeled on the Civil War Series, proved less successful than its celebrated predecessor. Series V contains first and secondhand accounts of events in the Spanish-American War, replies to requests for articles, and commentary from readers on the Century’s coverage of the War. Letters from Howard Freeman Sprague, who was commissioned to provide illustrations for the magazine, include descriptions of life onboard the Saint Paul, accounts of engagements in the War - with drawings, and references to yellow fever amongst the soldiers.
In 1889, Robert Underwood Johnson took a pack trip through the Yosemite country in California with John Muir. He was so impressed with the devastation being wrought by thousands of grazing sheep that he outlined two Century articles for Muir, enlisted Gilder's support, and in the next year was largely instrumental in persuading congress to create Yosemite National Park. Thereafter, Johnson and the Century continued to work for the cause of forest conservation.
The letters in Series VI document the efforts of Johnson and supporters to protect Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, and to bring them under federal rather than state management. They are mostly addressed to Robert Underwood Johnson personally. Correspondence includes copies of and commentary on letters, editorials, and articles published in leading papers of the day. The letters of George D. Mackenzie and C. D. Robinson, in particular, demonstrate the strength of emotion felt towards the issue and are highly critical of leading figures in the South Pacific Rail Road and state government of California. The telegram informing Johnson that the Yosemite bill was passed is included. Notable names include Frederic Law Olmsted and John P. Irish.
This Series contains a small number of miscellaneous items. It includes vouchers for payments to authors for material published in Scribner’s Monthly dated 1874 to 1878; material for the “Home and Society” editorial department which includes lists of articles, manuscripts, and manuscript fragments; responses to the Century’s investigations into fraternities at women’s colleges; letters from librarians in response to a question asking if books on the French Revolution are frequently borrowed; and a folder of responses from senior classes at U.S. colleges regarding their future occupations.
The Permit Books contain requests to owners, art dealers, photographers, publishers, and agents for permission to reproduce art and documents in their publications. The permit books include correspondence, reproductions of the art in question, receipts, and notes. Both boxes include an index to the permit book, with contributors of art works listed alphabetically.