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Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little papers


The Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little papers consist of approximately 71 linear feet of correspondence, research notes, publications, clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, ephemera, awards, catalogues and inventories, and other papers and artifacts. The collection documents the professional activities and accomplishments of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little, renowned collectors, preservationists, and experts in the fields of folk art and decorative arts, active from the 1930s to the 1980s. The papers reflect the Littles' work as authors, researchers, lecturers, consultants, board members for museums and historical organizations, professional preservationists, and collectors of folk art and decorative arts objects.

While the collection documents the work of both Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little, the focus rests more heavily on Nina Fletcher Little. Her research and publications files form the two most substantive series in the collection, and her other professional pursuits - as a lecturer, consultant, and active member of historical organizations - are also thoroughly documented. While many series do not pertain to Bertram K. Little, his professional life and work with historical and preservationist organizations are well represented in the collection. The Littles' shared passion for collecting and exhibiting art and historic objects is evident in the catalogues of their collections and in files related to loans and exhibitions. The Littles are also jointly represented in the series pertaining to their biographies, their awards, their colleagues, and their summer home, Cogswell's Grant.

The collection is arranged into record groups, then by series and in some cases subseries. The first record group, Nina Fletcher Little research papers, pertains to Little's research on folk art, decorative arts, and related topics. Each of the series within this record group represents an area of research, including ceramics, sculpture, furniture, etc. The largest series within this record group focuses on individual artists. These files offer a rich collection of research materials, compiled by Little over several decades as she sought information on objects in her own collection, conducted research for articles, and generally cultivated her expertise in the field of folk art and decorative arts. The files consist of publications by Little and others; photographs; correspondence; notes; clippings; scrapbooks; binders; and other papers. They offer researchers a treasure trove of research material, as well as a window into how Nina Fletcher Little, a distinguished authority in the field of folk art and decorative arts, developed her expertise.

Closely related to the research materials are the Nina Fletcher Little Publications files. This record group is comprised of eight series: six representing books by Little, one containing other publications by Little, and one containing a set of photocopies of Little's articles. The six series on Little's books form the core of this record group. They include copies of the books, corrected manuscript drafts, photographs, correspondence, contracts, and research materials, offering researchers a full view of how each publication was developed. The books represented are: Some Old Brookline Houses (1949), American Decorative Wall Painting (1952, 1972, 1989), Early Years of the McLean Hospital (1972), Country Arts in Early American Homes (1975), Neat and Tidy (1980), and Little by Little (1981). Researchers interested in Nina Fletcher Little's publications should note that the pamphlet Floor Coverings is filed with the Old Sturbridge Village series in the Professional Activities record group, and that numerous other articles by Little are filed with her research in series I-X.

The Exhibitions and Loans record group consists of three series: Exhibitions; Loans; and Exhibition Catalogues, Pamphlets, and Other Publications. Together they document Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little's involvement in exhibitions, both as lenders and as consulting curators or scholars. The Exhibitions series focuses on the Littles' role in development of several large exhibitions, such as Maine and its Artists, 1710-1963 at Colby College and American Folk Painters of Three Centuries at the Whitney Museum. The Loans series documents a small number of loans made by the Littles to various exhibitions, particularly during the United States bicentennial celebration. The Exhibition Catalogues, Pamphlets, and Other Publications series is an extensive collection of publications related to folk art and decorative arts. Many of the exhibitions catalogues in the series contain notes specifying which objects belong to the Littles, giving researchers an idea of the depth and breadth of the Littles' loans. The dozens of publications in the series also offer researchers a wealth of published resources on decorative arts, furnishings, paintings, ceramics, architecture, and other topics.

The Professional Activities record group documents the pursuits of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little within historical and collecting communities. The series within this record group cover a wide array of activities, demonstrating the intensity and range of the Little's involvement in their professional field. The series within this record group include: Collectors' Clubs; Lectures, Seminars, and Forums; Old Sturbridge Village; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection; Nina Fletcher Little Correspondence; and Nina Fletcher Little Professional Scrapbook. Two of these series - Collectors' Clubs and Lectures, Seminars, and Forums - relate to both Bertram and Nina Little's activities, while the remaining series focus on Nina Little's professional pursuits. The Collectors' Clubs files document the Littles' involvement in organizations such as the China Students' Club, the Wedgwood Club, and the Rushlight Club, and contain news clippings, correspondence, photographs, ephemera, and exhibition files. The Lectures, Seminars, and Forums series pertain to Nina and Bert Little's involvement as faculty or guest speakers at the Cooperstown Seminars on American Culture, the Williamsburg Antiques Forums, and other events. They also document Nina Fletcher Little's work as a lecturer on a variety of topics, and many of her lecture and slide notes have been preserved. The Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) series and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection (AARFAC) series pertain to Nina Fletcher Little's extensive work as a trustee and consultant, respectively. The Nina Fletcher Little Correspondence series contain Little's correspondence with a wide array of museums, galleries, historical societies, editors, dealers, and collectors throughout her long career. The correspondence has many letters from dealer Clifton Blake, as well as letters and receipts related to the development of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little's collection. The Nina Fletcher Little Professional Scra pbook series contains a single volume compiled by Little, spanning the years 1930-1944. The letters, news clippings, programs, and pamphlets contained in the scrapbook offer an extensive and personal view of the early years of Nina Fletcher Little's career. Lastly, the Awards series contain correspondence, certificates, plaques, trophies, and other material pertaining to the numerous awards the Littles received individually or together, honoring their work as preservationists and leaders in the historical community.

The Personal Papers record group contains some personal papers of Nina Fletcher Little, along with biographical material about Bertram and Nina Little and their colleagues. A series of Awards received by the Littles completes this record group. Nina Little's personal papers include subseries on her childhood writing, her work with Brookline charitable organizations, miscellaneous papers, and a scrapbook commemorating a black tie dinner honoring Nina Fletcher Little held in 1977, titled "An Evening With Nina Aboard the Yacht Cristina." The Biographical Materials and Personal Photographs series include articles, news clippings, and photographs related to Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little and their collection. The photographs in this series span their entire lives, including baby pictures and wedding portraits. The Colleagues of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little series contains articles and other material on the collectors, antiques dealers, editors, museum leaders, and others who worked and interacted with the Littles throughout their career. Both the Biographical Materials series and the Colleagues series contain material added by Selina Fletcher Little after her parents' deaths. Throughout the collection, Selina Little has occasionally added relevant news clippings or other material, supplementing her parents' archives.

Material related to the Littles' collections, as well as their summer home in Essex, Massachusetts, is arranged in the Collection and Homes (Cogswell's Grant and 305 Warren Street, Brookline) record group. The Cogswell's Grant series houses a variety of papers pertaining to the upkeep of the property, the bequest of the home and collections to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), appraisals of the property and furnishings, and other topics. There are also articles about the folk art collection and numerous photographs of the property. The series offers a rich textual and visual history of the Littles' time at Cogswell's Grant. The Little Collection Catalogues and Inventories series contains binders and card catalogues documenting their collections at Cogswell's Grant and 305 Warren Street in Brookline. The series offers a comprehensive look at the Littles' remarkable collection of folk art, furniture, and other decorative objects. The catalogue records contain descriptions, measurements, inscriptions, attributions, dates, acquisition information and photographs. Because many records contain information of what the Littles paid for an object, the entire series is restricted. Researchers interested in the collections may also wish to consult the Selina Fletcher Little Binders series and the Auction Catalogues series in the Additions record group.

The Bertram K. Little Archive is the section of the collection that focuses solely on Bertram Little. The series consists of nine subseries, documenting different aspects of his career and other interests. Topics represented include Little's work at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, his career in publishing, his involvement historical and preservation organizations, and his work as a lecturer, writer, and active alumnus of Harvard University.

The Printing Plates section consists of three sets of printing plates kept by Nina Fletcher Little and donated along with her papers. Most of the plates are from publications by Little: her first book Some Old Brookline Houses, as well as four articles about individual artists published in the magazine Antiques. The final set of printing plates do not relate to Little's writing, but were presumably collected by Little as research objects.

Lastly, the Additions record group unites four series containing material generated by people other than Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little, but nevertheless related to the Littles. The Selina Fletcher Little Binders series contains three self-published, illustrated histories and scrapbooks by Selina Fletcher Little. Two volumes offer a personal history of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little, their collections, and their Brookline home. The third volume thoroughly documents the provenance of several Little family heirlooms. The Little Collection Auctions series pertains to the 1993 and 1994 Sotheby's auctions that disposed of a portion of the Littles' collection of folk art and decorative arts. This series consists mainly of copies of the auction catalogues. The Elena Sarni Project series contains the work of Sarni, Historic New England's Nina Fletcher and Bertram Kimball Little Folk Arts Fellow from 2000 to 2001. Sarni produced an essay on Nina Little's career and a comprehensive list of exhibitions to which the Littles loaned objects. Lastly, the Oral History Interviews series contains tape recordings and, in some cases, transcripts, of interviews with Bertram K. Little, Nina Fletcher Little, and their sons, John B. Little and Warren M. Little.


Collection Name
Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little papers
Collection Code
This collection documents the professional work and personal lives of Nina Fletcher Little and Bertram K. Little, renowned collectors, preservationists, and experts in the fields of folk art and decorative arts, active from the 1930s to the 1980s. The archives reflect the Littles' work as authors, researchers, lecturers, consultants, board members for museums and historical organizations, professional preservationists, and collectors of folk art and decorative arts objects.
Acquisition Type
Date of Acquisition
Collection Type
Description Level
Custodial History
The materials in this collection were created and collected by Nina Fletcher Little and Bertram K. Little. Their daughter, Selina Fletcher Little, cared for and arranged the materials before they were transferred to Historic New England.
Credit Line
Gifts of John B. Little, Selina Fletcher Little, and Warren M. Little, 1996-2007.
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

In 1937, Bertram Kimball Little and Nina Fletcher Little owned a house in Brookline, Massachusetts, but were looking for a summer home appropriate for their growing family and collection of antiques. As a young married couple in the 1920s, they had purchased a small cottage in Hudson, Massachusetts, which they enjoyed restoring and furnishing. In choosing pieces for this house, they were guided by Mr. Little's cousin, Edna Little Greenwood, who lived nearby, and whose celebrated collection of Americana is now in the Smithsonian Institution. She inspired in the Littles a lifelong love of hunting for and studying American decorative arts. The Littles particularly loved folk art, which Mrs. Little preferred to call "country arts," and as their collection grew, they began to look for a larger house, closer to Boston, while still offering a secluded atmosphere. In this way, the Littles discovered the property known at that time as "The Boyd Farm." Mrs. Little was able to trace the history of the farm, and she discovered the 1636 land grant to John Cogswell in the manuscript archives for the Town of Ipswich, and she named the property "Cogswell's Grant."

As the years went by, Cogswell's Grant became a special retreat for the Littles and their three children, John B., Warren M. (known as Renny), and Selina F. Little. Their life at the farm was documented with a series of scrapbooks containing photos and notes of farm activities and gatherings, favorite animals, special events, and antique cars collected by John. It was also a center of study and research, as the Littles had a wide circle of friends, fellow collectors, dealers, and scholars with whom they enthusiastically shared their collections and exchanged information. They hosted gatherings of collectors' clubs, such as the Rushlight Club (for collectors of early American lighting fixtures), the China Students Club, and the Walpole Society, and the visitors' books over the years show many prominent names from the world of decorative arts.

Bertram Little was the corresponding secretary of Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) from 1947-1970, and as early as 1962 the Littles declared their intention to give Cogswell's Grant to Historic New England. In a letter in November of that year, Mrs. Little laid out a plan to make annual gifts towards the establishment of an endowed fund to care for the farm. She also granted a preservation restriction on the property to Historic New England in 1976, specifically to ensure the preservation of the historic landscape as open, cultivated land, and the historically significant dwelling house and barns.

In 1984, Mrs. Little transferred property ownership to Historic New England, reserving life tenancy rights for herself and her family. In letters at this time, she outlined her desire for Historic New England to maintain the entire property, including the house, lands, and collections.

Record details

Other People
Little, Bertram K., 1899-1993
Little, John B., Dr.
Little, Nina Fletcher, 1903-1993
Little, Selina F.
Little, Warren M.
Other Organizations
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
Descriptive Terms
art history
decorative arts
exhibitions (events)
folk art (traditional art)
historic preservation
research (function)
Material Type
manuscripts (document genre)
Brookline (Norfolk county, Massachusetts)
Essex (Essex county, Massachusetts)
Places (Buildings)
Cogswell's Grant (Essex, Mass.)
The majority of this collection is available for research. Restricted files are marked.

Location Note
HGO-02-102-C-A-101 to C-A-506 and HGO-02-102-C-B-101 to C-B-106
Accruals Note
Accruals are not expected.
Language Note
Materials are entirely in English.

Preferred Citation
Item identification. Box #, folder #. Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little papers (MS015). Historic New England, Library and Archives.
Processing Information
This collection was originally arranged by Selina Fletcher Little from 1995 to 2006. It was processed at Historic New England by Alyce Perry from 2006 to 2007. It was additionally processed by Carrie Supple from 2007 to 2008. In 2014, through a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant (NHPRC Grant Project #RH-50051: “Family Manuscript Collections: Expanding Online Access to New England Heritage”), the finding aid for this collection was updated to be DACS-compliant and was made accessible online by Abigail Cramer.
Rules and Conventions
This finding aid is DACS-compliant.

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