Charles Roberts Autograph Letters collection
Scope and Contents
The Charles Roberts autograph letters collection includes a wide range of materials, from a complete set of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence; letters of the Presidents of the United States; letters of foreign royalty; politicians and military figures; abolitionists and reformers; authors, poets, and novelists; composers and musicians; artists; scientists; educators; and businesspeople. The letters date from ca. 1400 to the present; many are accompanied by images of the author or other information. The largest sections of the letters focus on US history from the colonial period to the Civil War. Like many of the great autograph collections of the 19th century, the majority of those represented are white men.
When Roberts' widow, Lucy B. Roberts, gave the collection to Haverford in 1902, it contained some 12,000 items. Librarians continued to add to the collection, which now numbers over 20,000 letters and other original documents. Unfortunately, no record was kept of which materials were in the collection when it arrived at Haverford in 1902, so distinguishing between the original materials and those added is very difficult.
- ca. 1400 - 2003
- Roberts, Charles, 1846-1902 (Person)
The collection is open for research use
Standard Federal Copyright Law Applies (U.S. Title 17)
Charles Roberts was born in Philadelphia on August 21, 1846 to Elihu and Anne Pettit Roberts. He graduated from Haverford College in 1864; while at Haverford he was editor of The Bud and The Collegian. Roberts worked at glass manufacturer Whitall, Tatum & Co. where he became a partner and was then president of Spring Garden Insurance Company. He was also an active member of the community, serving on the Philadelphia Common Council, the Haverford Board of Managers, and the Council of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; the catalog for the sale of his book collection notes that “there was scarcely a literary, scientific, or historical society in Philadelphia of which he was not a member.”
The origin story for Roberts' interest in collecting is usually given as follows: As a first-year college student in 1860, he wrote to Abraham Lincoln to congratulate him on his election to the presidency of the United States. Lincoln's response, still preserved in the collection, led to his life-long interest in autographs. He was well-known in the autograph collecting community, frequently corresponding and consulting with Simon Gratz, another Philadelphia collector.
In addition to his autograph collection, Roberts also collected books, particularly those related to the history of Quakerism. The books in his collection, which included a number of very rare items, were sold in April, 1918 at the American Art Association in New York City.
Roberts was a lifelong Quaker. He married Lucy Branson Longstreth in 1892. Roberts died in Philadelphia on January 23, 1902. Later that year, Lucy Roberts gave his autograph collection to Haverford, along with $50,000 for the building of an assembly hall in honor of Charles Roberts. This building is the current Roberts Hall at Haverford, and originally included a fire-proof room for storage of the collection.
Sources: Biographical Catalog of the Matriculates of Haverford College, 1922; Illustrated catalogue of the private library of the late Charles Roberts of Philadelphia: comprising an extensive collection of noteworthy Quakeriana, 1918; Haverford College Bulletin, 1901-1902
32 Linear Feet (68 boxes )
Charles Roberts, a graduate of Haverford College in 1864, collected autographs, ranging from a set of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, letters of the Presidents of the United States, letters of foreign royalty, abolitionists, distinguished American and foreign authors and composers, scientists, educators and businesspeople. The letters date from ca. 1400 to the present; many are accompanied by fine prints and photographs. When Roberts' widow, Lucy B. Roberts, gave the collection to Haverford in 1902, it contained some 12,000 items. The collection continues to grow, and it now numbers over 20,000 letters and other original documents.
Arranged by category of person (scientist, novelist, member of Congress), and then alphabetically in each category. It is assumed that the categories are Roberts' own, but there is no internal evidence to substantiate this.
- Charles Roberts Autograph Letters collection
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- February 2023: Reboxed and finding aid updated
Find It at the Library
Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting reproductions from Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections Library
370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford PA 19041 USA US