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Spencer Napoleonica collection

Identifier: Modern-MS-Spencer

Scope and Content of the Collection

Autograph documents and prints relating to Napoleon I and his contemporaries.

The documents consist largely of letters to and from Napoleon and his military & political associates, letters between Napoleon and members of his family and among family members, and a few autograph documents of artistic and literary notables of the Napoleonic era. Important materials concern Napoleon’s exile and death at St. Helena; the marriage of Pauline Bonaparte and Camillo Borghese; and correspondence between Napoleon’s legitimate son, Francois, and his mother Marie-Louise of Austria. There is scant material related to Napoleon's exile on Elba (see his letter to his mistress, Countess Marie Walewska, Box 12, Folder 1158). The prints are mostly images of people and places represented in the autograph collection.

Narrative descriptions of the subject matter, types of material, and arrangement of each series are available through the Organization section of the finding aid.


  • Creation: 1756-1975



Materials are in French.

Conditions Governing Access

The Spencer Napoleonica collection is open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum, and items in each folder will be counted before and after delivery to the patron (Priority I).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Spencer Napoleonica collection is the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of William M. Spencer

Chicago businessman and collector of materials relating to the Napoleonic Era.

William Marvin Spencer was a Chicago businessman and civic leader. He was born in Erie, Pennsylvania on May 14, 1892 and died in Chicago, Illinois on October 3, 1984. He served as an officer in the American Expeditionary Force in France during WW I. Around 1930, Spencer started to collect material relating to Napoleon I and his circle of military and political associates; eventually he also included autographs of Napoleon's family members, mistresses, and favorites. In 1956 and 1957, Spencer donated 234 items from his collection to the University of Chicago Library. In the early 1970's, Spencer offered to sell his collection to the French National Archives, but they could not meet his asking price. Spencer's own thoughts about his collection and collecting in general are summarized in a talk housed in Box 17, Folder 1720.


12 Linear Feet (2,892 items in 23 boxes and 2 albums)


A collection of materials, chiefly autographs, relating to the Napoleonic Era. Military orders, political and personal correspondence, legal documents, receipts, portraits, and images are included.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Autograph documents, chronological, 1756-1975
Boxes 1-20, 26-27
Series 2: Prints, alphabetical by subject, 1797-1920
Boxes 21-25

Collection Stack Location

Vault 40 6-7


Gift, William M. Spencer, 1979 & 1981; Spencer heirs, 1991.

Processed by

Robert P. Carlson, May 2010


Inventory of the Spencer Napoleonica collection, 1756-1975
Robert P. Carlson
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States