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Overbury Collection

Identifier: SC05

Collection Scope and Content Summary

The Overbury Collection dates from 1777 to 1963. Materials consist of nineteen hundred rare book editions and nearly one thousand letters and manuscripts by American authors, primarily American women authors. The manuscripts and letters contain material by such authors as Abigail Adams, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Willa Cather, Helen Keller, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Gertrude Stein. A few manuscripts and letters given by English professor Eleanor M. Tilton and some by male authors are part of the Collection though their provenance is unclear.

The collection contains catalog cards created by Overbury as well as ones once used by the Library to provide access to the collection and book plates for the book spines that were not used are also included. Personal correspondence and notebooks of Overbury as well as Xerox copies of her correspondence with Seven Gables Bookshop are among the materials.

Clippings collected by Overbury have been cut from the New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, and Saturday Review and occasionally include notes by Overbury or correspondence with dealers. Rare books housed off-site storage include a 1758 edition of poems by Anne Bradstreet, first editions of Fannie Hurst, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Cornelia Otis Skinner and editions of Phillis Wheatley and Mercy Otis Warren. Books from the Overbury collection that are on-site and available for use can be found in CLIO, the Columbia University Libraries catalog, by searching for "SC05 Overbury":


  • Creation: 1777-1963


This collection has no restrictions. The majority of the books in this collection are stored off-site and require advance notice to use.

Publication Rights

Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Barnard Archives and Special Collections. The Barnard Archives and Special Collections approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Reproduction Restrictions

Photocopies or scans may be made for research purposes.


Bertha Van Riper Overbury was born in 1873 in Jersey City, New Jersey. She graduated from Barnard College in 1896—the first class to complete all four years of college at Barnard. Overbury had become interested in collecting books while studying at Barnard and spent much of her free time in bookshops on Madison Avenue. Later she moved to California and lived with her husband, who was a manufacturer of asphalt roofing, in San Marino. She lived just blocks from the Huntington Library and spent the majority of her time there reading.

She began collecting first editions of English women and men writers, but it was not until she read an article in The Colophon by E. Miriam Lone on “Some Bookwomen of the Fifteenth Century” that she had the idea to focus her collection on American women authors. After receiving a letter from a rare book dealer in New York offering her a volume of manuscripts by fifteen American women, she decided to purchase it with the goal of collecting one signed autographed letter and one signed autographed manuscript for each of the 760 American women authors then represented in her collection. In 1950, she decided to donate her collection to Barnard College and worked with librarian Esther Greene and English professor Eleanor M. Tilton to collect materials that would be especially valuable for Barnard’s students until her death at the age of ninety in 1963.

References: “Women Writers,” New Yorker, October 7, 1972, p. 28.


11.88 Linear Feet (18 document boxes, 5 custom sized boxes. )




The collection consists of letters, manuscripts, and books of American women authors collected by Bertha Van Riper Overbury, Barnard Class of 1896. It includes correspondence with the dealers she used to collect the material, clippings related to the material, and catalog cards for the letters, manuscripts, and books in the collection.

Collection Arrangement

Items are arranged into the following series:

Series 1, Correspondence and Manuscripts
Boxes 1-8, 12, 13, and 14, the letters and manuscripts, are arranged alphabetically by author at the item level. Box 8 is arranged alphabetically by author at the item level and contains manuscripts and letters by female authors donated by Barnard English Professor Eleanor M. Tilton and male authors, but the provenance of these materials is not known.

Series 2, Clippings
Boxes 15-21 containing clippings Overbury collected related to the collection, are arranged at the folder level by the catalog card number they correspond to or book title.

Series 3, Books and Related Materials
Boxes 11, 22, and 23 contain books by authors in the collection and their related materials, please contact the archivist for an inventory of the books.

Series 4, Card Catalog Records
Boxes 9-10 contain catalog cards in their original order.

Physical Location

Part of this collection is located in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library. The majority of the rare books in this collection are stored off-site and require advance notice to use. To use this collection, please contact the Barnard Archives and Special Collections at 212.854.4079 or

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to Barnard College Archives by Bertha Van Riper Overbury in 1950 and arrived at the Barnard College Library after her death in 1963. Additional materials were added to the Collection through the 1980s, but their provenance is not known.


No additions are expected.

Processing History

This collection was processed and the finding aid written by Public Services Archivist Hilary Thorsen in December 2012. The finding aid was updated by Dinah Handel, July 2015.

Descriptive Rules Used: Finding aid adheres to that prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard Encoding: Machine readable finding aid encoded in EAD 2002. Finding aid written in English.

Guide to Overbury Collection
In Progress
Hilary Thorsen and Dinah Handel
© 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Barnard Archives and Special Collections Repository

3009 Broadway
New York NY 10027 United States