The Century Company published the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, which was widely regarded as the best general periodical of its time, performing a role as cultural arbiter during the 1880s and 1890s. It was founded in New York City in 1881 and also published the children's magazine St. Nicholas, dictionaries, and books. The Century Company records date from 1870 to the 1930s and chiefly contain correspondence with contributors, readers, public figures, and literary agents. A number of manuscripts and proofs in the collection are extensively edited and taken with annotations on letters provide a detailed record of the outlook, standards, and functions of the company.
Biographical/historical: The Century Company published the prestigious periodical the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, the popular children's magazine St. Nicholas, and a number of successful books. It was founded in New York City in 1881 when Roswell Smith bought Scribner's and Company and renamed it the Century Company, after the Century Club in New York. The magazine Scribner's Monthly, was renamed theCentury Illustrated Monthly Magazine. The magazine ceased publication in 1930.
When Roswell Smith formed his new company, he took with him the men who had made Scribner's and Company successful: popular author and editor Josiah Gilbert Holland (who died shortly thereafter), editors Richard Watson Gilder and Robert Underwood Johnson, and art director Alexander W. Drake. Under Gilder's leadership, the Century Illustrated Magazine thrived. The magazine became noted for its short stories, poems, articles on historical and current events, and fine woodcut illustrations, which, under Alexander W. Drake, superintendent of the art department, set the standard for quality in late nineteenth century commercial art.
The Century's greatest success was its series of articles on the history of the Civil War. The "War Series" began in November 1884 and continued for more than three years. It was conceived of by another member of Gilder's inner circle, Clarence Clough Buel, who assisted Johnson in editing the series. The series consisted of firsthand remembrances written by Union and Confederate combatants; 230 participants, from privates to generals (including Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman), contributed. The series also included nearly 2,000 engravings, often based on photography of Matthew B. Brady and Alexander Gardner. The series doubled the magazine's circulation (to 250,000) and made the Century Company $1 million. The Century later republished the articles as a four volume book, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, also edited by Johnson and Buel.
Although the Century enjoyed years of critical and commercial success under Gilder's editorship, competition from cheaper magazines and newspapers during the early 20th century eventually resulted in declining readership. After Gilder's death in 1909, Robert Underwood Johnson became the Century's editor. Johnson failed to convince the publisher to start a new, inexpensive magazine to meet the competition. He resigned in 1912, and was succeeded by Robert Sterling Yard, then Douglas Z. Doty in 1915, both stating their intentions to change the direction of the magazine to bring it more in line with modern sentiments. In 1929, the Century Magazine became a quarterly, and in 1930, the owners of The Forum bought the Century and merged it with their magazine.
Content: 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.