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Lathrop C. and Mabel H. Urner Harper Photograph Collection

Call Number

PR 121


[1872]-1954, undated (Bulk 1891-1934), inclusive


Harper, Lathrop Colgate, 1867-1950


3.6 Linear feet (6 boxes)

Language of Materials

English .


Collection of personal photographs of Mabel Herbert Urner and Lathrop Colgate Harper, their extended family, their Gramercy Park home and their extended vacations to Europe. Publicity photographs taken for Mabel Urner's newspaper column are included.

Biographical Note

Lathrop Colgate Harper (1867-1950) and Mabel H. Urner Harper (1881-1957), a socially prominent couple of early twentieth-century New York, lived for years on Gramercy Park and served as benefactors for some of New York's finest institutions. Their domestic lives and European travels were immortalized in the pages of over one hundred newspapers in the United States, Canada and Great Britain through Mabel Urner's syndicated, semi-autobiographical column, The Married Life of Helen and Warren.

Lathrop Colgate Harper was a successful rare book dealer, consultant to many major U.S. research libraries and authority on incunabula, Americana, and medieval manuscripts. A native New Yorker, Harper traced his lineage to several distinguished New York families. His grandfather, Samuel Barker Harper (b. 1777), married Christina Arcularius, daughter of New York Alderman and State Assemblyman Philip J. Arcularius. Harper's father, the tea merchant James Philip Harper, married Margaret Perego, daughter of a wealthy New York merchant whose family had settled in New Jersey by 1750. Harper was the great nephew of New York Mayor James Harper and second cousin of the Harper Brothers publishers.

In 1887 Harper joined his elder brother, Francis P. Harper, in the rare book business at 4 Barclay Street. The bookstore successively moved to 17 East 16th Street, 14 West 22nd Street, 437 Fifth Avenue and finally 8 West 40th Street. After his brother's early retirement in 1910, Harper developed his interest in Americana.. He became a much sought-after source of rare Americana after obtaining for William L. Clements the Americana library of Newbold Edgar, which would become the core collection for the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. He was granted an honorary Master of Arts by the University of Michigan in 1928 in honor of his efforts in the library's development and subsequent growth. He was well known to many research libraries, serving on library committees for Harvard University, Princeton University, The New-York Historical Society and the Council of The Bibliographic Society of America, among others. In the 1920s, he developed an interest in incunabula (books printed before 1501) and went on to compile the first catalogue of incunabula published in the United States, A Selection of Incunabula Describing One Thousand Books Printed in the XVth Century (New York: 1930), once considered a basic reference resource.

In 1912, Indiana native Mabel Herbert Urner (1881-1957) married Lathrop C. Harper. She continued to use her maiden name in her professional life. She began a newspaper column in 1914, The Married Life of Helen and Warren, a fictional account that was based primarily on her life with Harper. The column was eventually syndicated in over 100 newspapers in the United States, Canada and Great Britain; it ran for thirty years, finally ceasing in 1944. The couple took yearly trips to Europe, during which Harper hunted for rare books and Urner combed markets for seventeenth and eighteenth century samplers, antique glassware, antique snuff tins, amber, furniture and other collectibles. Harper became known as a connoisseur and keen appraiser of rare books, and Urner developed collections to fill their Gramercy Park home that would eventually catch the eye of the national press and be bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art after her death. Her readers' queries about the couple's travels and interest in the cuisines of Europe eventually prompted Urner to write and self-publish a series of noncommercial but popular "Guidelets" on European travel and food, beginning in 1930.

In 1948, just two years before his death, Harper received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Brown University. The citation acclaimed his achievements and industry in helping to compile libraries across the nation, stating, "The shelves of the noblest libraries in this country reflect your zeal for letters and your discriminating love of books." He died in his office on August 11, 1950, his hand still holding the phone as he prepared to make his nightly call to his wife. Urner followed him in death on March 2, 1957, leaving behind thirty years of journalistic writing. Parts of the Harper estate were donated to New York area institutions including Princeton University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The New-York Historical Society.


Photographs are arranged alphabetically by geographic name or name of sitter.

Materials have been arranged into the following series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Buildings
  2. Series II: People
  3. Series III: Vacations
  4. Series IV:Negatives

Scope and Content Note

The Lathrop C. and Mabel H. Urner Harper Photograph Collection spans the period from 1872-1954, with many undated materials. The collection consists of 3.6 linear feet of black and white photographic prints, tintypes, film negatives, glass negatives, and drawings. The photographs mainly relate to the personal and family life of the Harpers, with a few photographs relating to Lathrop C. Harper's rare book shop. Also included are some of Mabel H. Urner's newspaper column publicity photographs. The collection includes documentation of some of the couple's yearly tours of Europe prior to World War II.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Lathrop C. and Mabel H. Urner Harper Photograph Collection, PR 121, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.


Gift of the Estate of Lathrop Colgate Harper on December 23, 1957.

Related Material The New-York Historical Society

The Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections holds other images related to this collection.The Album File (PR 002) includes more Harper, Perego, Arcularius and Dimmock family photographs, some of which are duplicates of those in this collection. The Cased Photograph file (PR 012) contains additional photographs of Harper, Perego and Arcularius family members. For written materials on both Lathrop C. Harper and Mabel H. Urner Harper, see the New-York Historical Society Library's Lathrop Colgate Harper Papers and the Collection of clippings, manuscripts, articles, etc. relating to Lathrop Colgate Harper.

Collection processed by

Processed by Jennifer Lewis

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:48:44 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version wasderived from harper.xml.


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