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G. & C. Merriam Company archive

Call Number: GEN MSS 370

Scope and Contents

The G. & C. Merriam Company Archive consists of correspondence, documents, writings, printed material, and photographs documenting the history of the G. & C. Merriam Company. The collection spans the years 1797-1978, but most of the material dates from 1830 to 1892. The papers provide insight into the business practices of the nineteenth century publishing and bookselling trade, particularly in Massachusetts; and contain much material on lexicography, the development of American English, and the publishing history of Webster's Dictionary.

The Archive is housed in 155 boxes and is organized into four series: Historical File, Letterpress Copybooks, Ledgers, and Other Papers. Boxes 102-111 and 112-151 contain Volumes and Oversize material which could not be housed in sequence in the main files. Boxes 152-155 contain Restricted Fragile material.

Series I, Historical File , 1804-1977 (boxes 1-26), has been preserved largely as established by the Merriam Company, with the addition of a few loose items that had not yet been interfiled. The papers are organized into three subseries: Correspondence, Documents and Other Papers, and Other Correspondence and Documents. Many of the items in the Historical File were indexed by the Merriam Company; the card indexes may be found at the front of the series. The indexes contain synopses of the items, and are arranged both alphabetically (by author and subject), and chronologically. These indices provide the best access to material relating to a person or subject in the Historical File, as the filing practice for the materials themselves is idiosyncratic: material generated by a single author may be filed sometimes as many as three different ways: under the personal name, under the corporate name of the letterhead on which he wrote, and under the subject of the letter. Many of the items that have been indexed have slips of paper affixed to them listing the tracings referenced in the card catalog. Names of businesses were filed and indexed by last name of the business (e.g., J.S. & C. Adams filed under "A"); they have been re-filed according to the first letter of the corporate name, in keeping with library practice. There were a few instances in which correspondents had been misidentified; in those cases the card indexes have been corrected and the items refiled. In addition to original materials, the Historical File also includes photocopies and typed transcripts in lieu of originals; the card indexes have been annotated to indicate this. It is not known where many of the originals of the photocopies are located.

The correspondence in the Historical File consists primarily of incoming business letters concerning the Merriam Company's principal publications, the Webster dictionaries and Chitty's Pleadings. The File also contains a few drafts of outgoing letters; these occur particularly in the 1850's. (For most outgoing correspondence, see Series II, Letterpress Copybooks.) As one would expect, these files contain much information on the company's bookselling, publishing, and promotional ventures, their handling of copyright and other legal issues, which particularly involved the Webster heirs.

Principal correspondents include Merriam Company editors Chauncey Goodrich, Noah Porter, William G. Webster, and William A. Wheeler. Letters from Goodrich, the first Merriam dictionary editor, include early discussions of the layout of the dictionary, his compensation, and production schedule. Much of the correspondence with William A. Wheeler consists of drafts of letters from the Merriams. There are also seven folders of letters from H.O. Houghton & Co. about printing and production schedule details, particularly between 1872-1874, and 1877-1878.

The correspondence files also include many testimonials from well known authors and politicians: Grover Cleveland, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Tecumseh Sherman, Zachary Taylor, Daniel Webster, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Samuel Clemens (who wrote another letter on the origin of the word 'stateroom'). There is a large file of letters with suggestions for corrections and additions to the dictionaries; many of these were prompted by advertising which challenged readers to find words not in Webster's, with a promise of a free dictionary to those who did. Many of the correspondents in this file are experts in their fields, and some of the letters carry pencilled annotations by Merriam staff indicating the action taken.

Several engravers who provided services to the company also are represented: John Andrew & Son, Milton Bradley Co., and David Bogue. A letter from John Andrew & Son includes approximately fifty proofs of illustrations of reptiles and fish. Finally, there are a few pieces of personal correspondence: Noah Webster to his wife (dated February 16, 1831) and an early letter from William Merriam to his brothers in 1834.

Documents and Other Papers includes legal and financial records, writings and printed material. The filing order mirrors the correspondence subseries, and many of the same names and subjects appear in both. The legal documents and financial records include agreements with other publishers, indentures, contracts with agents and publishers, statements of account, deeds, powers of attorney, copyright certificates, statements of sales, opinions of lawyers concerning rights of Webster heirs and copyright issues, an apprenticeship agreement between G. & C. Merriam and Wm. W. Howland (1832), wholesale dealers licenses for G. & C. Merriam, a bill of sale from Ebenezer Merriam to George Merriam for one half of the business (1824), co-partnership agreements, receipts, and small volumes of accounts kept for H.O. Houghton & Co., and Case, Tiffany & Co. The William G. Webster file includes an 1847 contract with G. & C. Merriam, renewed in 1852, entitling the Merriams to all right, title and claim to the Webster Dictionary: related copyright documents are filed under "Webster Heirs." The printed material in the files consists of testimonial pamphlets and resolutions of state legislatures, and writings include Chauncey Goodrich's "Remarks on the Pronunciation of the English Language," as well as eight folders of autograph notes concerning suggested corrections and additions.

Series II, Letterpress Copybooks , 1851-1905 (boxes 27-89), consists of a numbered run of 62 volumes covering the years 1875-1905, followed by three unnumbered volumes dating from 1851 to 1905, with gaps. The 62 sequentially numbered copybooks lack seven volumes: number 1 (July 9, 1877 to February 12, 1878), and numbers 57-62 (September 25, 1890 to March 13, 1891). The volumes contain the Merriam Company's outgoing letters and complement the incoming correspondence found in Series I. The volumes document the firm's routine business affairs: dealings with editors, printers, and agents, filling orders, directing promotion, and contacting school superintendents and bookstore owners in various parts of the country. The numbered volumes are indexed, and beginning with letterbook six give the subject of letters to such principal correspondents as H.O. Houghton & Co.; Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.; G.W. Borland & Co.; and editors Dorsey Gardner and L. J. Campbell.

Series III, Ledgers , 1818-1921 (boxes 90-92), is organized into six subseries: Account Books, Daybooks, Merchants Books, Order Books, Inventories, and Miscellaneous Ledgers. There are fifteen account books, dated 1818-1892, with a gap from 1850 to 1852. There are three ledgers, two daybooks, and one order book dated 1818-1832, the years of the early businesses E. Merriam & Co., E. & G. Merriam, and Merriam, Little & Co. These ledgers record bookselling and printing activities, as well as sales of shoes and other miscellaneous items. Early customers include printers and publishers Dorr & Howland, James Loring, Isaiah Thomas, Jr., and West, Richardson, and Lord. There are separately bound indexes to two early volumes; later account books include indexes bound in. In addition to the consecutive run of account books, there is a separately maintained booksellers account book for the period 1843-1848, and a copyright account book for 1854-1873. Miscellaneous Ledgers track such information as Sales of Webster Abridgements, the cost of publishing the Webster Dictionary, maintained from 1844-1847, and a volume of miscellaneous notes, including Houghton's prices for binding the 1864 edition, and the number of persons required to make one hundred Webster dictionaries per day.

Series IV, Other Papers , 1797-1978 (boxes 93-101), is organized into four subseries: Scrapbooks, Printed Ephemera, Writings, and Photographs and Postcards. Twelve scrapbooks kept by the Merriams, the earliest of which contains numerous bookseller labels on the front and back inside covers, carry examples of the firm's stationery, circulars, pamphlets, advertisements, and clippings. One scrapbook, dated 1866-1870, carries notes on publishers, booksellers, and paper companies in the United States, with personal information on owners, including estimates of worth, and credit ratings. Another scrapbook has clippings about the Webster-Worcester competition gathered into "controversial" and "non-controversial" categories. Printed Ephemera includes various forms of advertising ephemera, including circulars, clippings, and pamphlets, many of them Merriam Company advertisements, some of them about the Merriam Company, the Webster-Worcester competition, Noah Webster, the Merriams themselves, and also includes a leaf from Johnson's Dictionary (box 112, folder 732). There are also four boxes of proofs of illustrations for a dictionary, photoreproductions mounted on 5x7" index cards, with holograph notes on some of the card versos, dated 1953-1956. The Writings, a varied assortment, include three leaves from Noah Webster's holograph draft of the 1828 edition of the Unabridged Dictionary, as well as holograph revisions attributed to Noah Webster on a printed dictionary page. Also in Writings are lists of words not in Webster, and Homer Merriam's "Annals of the Merriam Family." There are only a few photographs, of Noah Webster's birthplace, his house, and the first printing office of the Merriams in West Brookfield, Massachusetts.

Volumes (boxes 102-111) contains material from series III and IV, and is arranged in series order. Oversize (boxes 112-151) contains material from series I-IV and is arranged in box order. The Restricted Fragile material in boxes 152-155 consists of originals for which preservation photocopies have been made.


  • 1797 - 1978
  • Majority of material found within 1830 - 1892


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 152-155 and Broadside folder 811: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The G. & C. Merriam Company Archive is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the G. & C. Merriam Company, 1978.

Associated Materials

The Beinecke Library also acquired the G. & C. Merriam Company library, which has been housed and cataloged separately, with the provenance traced. The original woodcuts and engraved plates are currently deposited in the Sterling Memorial Library's Arts of the Book Collection, as are microfilm and a photocopy of the set of proofs of dictionary illustrations on index cards in boxes 96-99, lacking the holograph notes on their versos.


119.49 Linear Feet ((155 boxes) + 4 broadside folders)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The archive consists of correspondence, documents, writings, printed material, and photographs documenting the history of the G. & C. Merriam Company. The papers provide insight into the business practices of the nineteenth century publishing and bookselling trade, particularly in Massachusetts, and contain much material on lexicography, the development of American English, and the publishing history of Webster's Dictionary. Principal correspondents include Merriam Company editors Chauncey Goodrich, Noah Porter, William G. Webster, William A. Wheeler, and printers H.O. Houghton & Co. There are both legal and financial records, including contracts with agents and publishers, and opinions of lawyers on copyright issues.
There are sixty-five letterpress copybooks, as well as numerous account books, daybooks, merchants books, order books, and inventories, documenting the firm's business affairs. Twelve scrapbooks carry examples of the firm's stationery, circulars, advertisements, and clippings.


The origins of the G. & C. Merriam Company were in a business begun in 1797 by Ebenezer and Daniel Merriam in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Daniel's sons, George and Charles, served an apprenticeship to their uncles, then moved to Springfield in 1831, where they became booksellers and publishers of schoolbooks, Bibles, and law books, particularly Joseph Chitty's Pleadings.

When Noah Webster, renowned for his American Dictionary of the English Language (first published in 1828), died in 1843, his heirs sold the unbound sheets of the 1841 edition of the dictionary to the firm of J.S. & C. Adams, which soon found the two big volumes hard to sell. G. & C. Merriam purchased it from Adams, and at the same time gained the right to publish revisions, making them the owners of the American Dictionary. The Merriams then moved to publish a revised and enlarged edition in one volume at $6 a copy. The chief editor of the revision was Chauncey Goodrich, professor at Yale and son-in-law to Noah Webster, who was aided by a core group of experts in their fields. The Webster heirs fought the low price of the dictionary, but the Merriams contended that the price would broaden the market and make it a fast seller. The new edition, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New Revised Edition) appeared in 1847, and was an immediate success.

The business grew: well versed in business affairs, the Merriams became masters of the art of promotion, with agents in the field, slogans ("Get the Best"), printed advertisements of all forms, and testimonials gathered from famous men of the day. This was due in part to the stiff competition from Joseph Worcester's Universal and Critical Dictionary of the English Language (1846). Worcester had worked with Noah Webster on the abridged edition of 1829, and had then struck out on his own, publishing Worcester's Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary in 1835. With the publication of the now revised American Dictionary in 1847, the era of the "war of the dictionaries" was born. The Merriams, learning that Worcester was working on a third edition, immediately began preparing a new printing of the 1847 edition, to appear in 1859. It was enlarged with new words and supplements, a section of synonyms, and especially illustrations, which were added at the last moment, when it was learned that the Worcester dictionary was including them. Ultimately, the 1859 printing of the Webster dictionary reached publication before Worcester's, and thus was able to claim the distinction of being the first illustrated American dictionary.

The Merriams then worked on creating a completely new edition of the Webster dictionary, selecting Noah Porter, a professor and later president of Yale, as the principal editor, and H.O. Houghton & Co. as their printers. This edition was published in 1864 and was entitled An American Dictionary of the English Language, Royal Quarto Edition, Unabridged.

Between 1864 and 1892, when the firm incorporated under the name G. & C. Merriam Company, four new editions and numerous supplements were published: the 1879 edition, that included a biographical supplement; the 1882 edition, prepared for the subscription trade, that contained a history of the United States; the 1884, that included a gazetteer of the world. Finally, in 1890, the first Webster's International Dictionary, an unabridged dictionary, edited by Loomis J. Campbell, was issued, containing 175,000 listings, 56,000 more than in the 1864 revision. In 1900 a further supplement was published, and in 1909 a revised dictionary was published (Webster's New International).

In 1877, Charles Merriam, aged 71, sold his interest to Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co., who placed Orlando M. Baker in the firm as their representative. The firm incorporated in 1892, changing its name to The G. & C. Merriam Company. In 1904 Homer Merriam, who was serving as president, retired and was succeeded as president by Orlando M. Baker, who died in 1914. He was followed by H. Curtis Rowley, who was succeeded by Orlando Baker's son, Asa G. Baker. Asa Baker was succeeded in 1934 by Robert C. Munroe. In 1982, many presidents later, the company was renamed Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Chronology of the Early History of G. & C. Merriam Co.:

1797 Ebenezer (1777-1858) and Daniel Merriam (1771-1823) start a business in West Brookfield, Massachusetts under the name of E. Merriam and Company, apprenticing Daniel's sons, George and Charles.

1823 Daniel Merriam's death. Name of the firm changed to E. and G. Merriam.

1831 George and Charles and their brother-in-law Mr. Little move to Springfield, Massachusetts, where they establish a printing office and bookstore by the name of Merriam, Little & Co.

1832 Mr. Little leaves the firm, and the name changes to G. & C. Merriam in April.

1856 Homer, brother to George and Charles, becomes a partner, although the name of the firm remains unchanged.

Further information on the history of the G. & C. Merriam Company may be found in Robert Keith Leavitt's Noah's Ark, New England Yankees, and the Endless Quest: A Short History of the Original Webster Dictionaries, with Particular Reference to their First Hundred Years as Publications of G. & C. Merriam Company. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1947.

Guide to the G. & C. Merriam Company Archive
Under Revision
by Diana Smith
September 1998
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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