For the first half of her career, Edith Wharton published her books through the Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing house in New York. The archives are at Princeton University in the Charles Scribner’s Sons collection. Below is a brief research note shared among the volume editors, part of an ongoing series describing our work in progress on CWEWh.
From August 2018: Carol Singley and I were working on Wharton’s papers in the the Charles Scribner’s Sons Archive at Princeton University Library https://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/C0101/c001953,
and we thought a brief note about the “letter books” might be helpful. Please ignore this if it’s already common knowledge.
Before file folders and file cabinets were invented, it was common to take an image of an outgoing letter in a letterpress (while the ink was damp) and, for letters received, to paste them into a book, like a scrapbook. These books were then indexed with short descriptions so that the contents were known and could be looked up.
The first folder of Box 193 of the Charles Scribner’s Sons Archive has several pages of a letter book index. The entries look like this:
WCB #9 7/6/1904 p. 385 to EW
“Mentions “the Letter” which appears in the Macmillan edition and not in Scribners, and comments at length on her apparent “absent-mindedness.”
“WCB” indicates that the letter is from William Crary Brownell, her editor, to EW (Edith Wharton). The 7/6/1904 uses the American convention of month, day, and year to indicate July 6, 1904. The “#9” indicates that it was at one time in Book 9, on p. 385, and the description shows the content of the letter.
Why look at these when you can read the letters themselves?
The Letter Book index gives a good sense of the trajectory of the letters over a period of time, even when the letters themselves may not be extant. For example, the index refers to replies by Brownell, Charles Scribner, or Edward Burlingame to some letters of EW that don’t appear in the folders.
I can’t show a photograph because of the restrictions on the collection, but that’s what the index to the Letter Books looks like and what it means.