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Grace Nicholson Papers and Addenda: Finding Aid
mssNicholson papers and addenda  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administration Information
  • Biographical Note
  • References
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Grace Nicholson Papers and Addenda
    Dates: 1784-1975
    Bulk dates: 1900-1951
    Collection Number: mssNicholson papers and addenda
    Creator: Nicholson, Grace, -1948.
    Extent: 4,370 pieces. 30 boxes. 9 oversize folders. 3 scrapbooks. 1 roll.
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Manuscripts Department
    The Huntington Library
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2203
    Fax: (626) 449-5720
    Email: manuscripts@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: Abstract
    Language of Material: The records are in English.

    Administration Information


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, please go to following web site .

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Grace Nicholson Papers and Addenda, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Acquisition Information

    This collection was received by the Huntington Library in October 1968 as a gift from Thyra H. Maxwell, one of Grace Nicholson's assistants and an executor of her estate. Maxwell's donation included manuscripts, photographs, and printed materials related to Grace Nicholson, and, initially, the collection was divided between the Manuscripts Department and Rare Books Department. On July 7, 1973, the non-photographic materials held by the Rare Books Department were transferred to the Manuscripts Department and became the addenda part of this collection.
    4 pieces were added to the addenda, donated by Raymond P. Clover, December 29, 1975 (acquisition number 262).
    The items in Addenda Box 11 (except for the medal) were given as an anonymous gift, November 23, 1998 (acquisition number 1923).
    In June 1995, Box 3 of the Addenda was transferred back to the Rare Books Department and dispersed into the existing Grace Nicholson Photograph Collection.

    Material Cataloged Separately in The Huntington Library

    Related materials in other repositories

    • Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley:
      • Photographic negatives and prints of Calif. Indian baskets and other ethnographic items handled by Grace Nicholson from about 1912-1925 when she was a dealer in Pasadena (Accession 2880).
      • Grace Nicholson's ledger of Indian baskets from about 1912-1925 in Pasadena, California (Accession 2881).
    • Smithsonian Institution. National Museum of the American Indian Archives
      • American Indian - Heye Foundation Correspondence of Grace Nicholson (NMAI.AC.001)
      • William Benson Letters and Mythology.

    Biographical Note

    Grace Nicholson (1877-1948), a collector and dealer of Native American and Asian arts and crafts, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 1877, the daughter of attorney Franklin Nicholson (1851-1891) and Rose Dennington Nicholson (1855-1878). At the age of thirteen, following the death of her parents, Nicholson went to live with paternal grandparents, William Nicholson (1819-1901) and Mary Nicholson (1824-1901).
    After graduating from the Philadelphia Girls' High School in 1896, Nicholson worked as a stenographer and in other jobs in Philadelphia. In 1898, she met Mr. Carroll S. Hartman (1860-1933). She began working for Hartman in 1900, first as a promoter for “The Battle of Manila” cyclorama, and later in an amusement parlor on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In late 1901, with money from a small inheritance, Nicholson moved to Pasadena, California. In early 1902, she began purchasing Native American baskets and artifacts, opening a store at 41-43 South Raymond Avenue in Pasadena. Within a few years, she moved her combined home, store, and gallery to nearby 46 North Los Robles Avenue. Carroll Hartman had also relocated to Southern California, and Nicholson employed him as a buyer for her store.
    Nicholson traveled throughout Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington studying and purchasing Native American arts and crafts and establishing relationships with the artists, whom she often interviewed and photographed. Hartman often accompanied her on these expeditions, taking photographs as well. Nicholson kept extensive diaries and notes on her buying trips through Native American territory, especially of the Karok, Klamath, and Pomo Indians. Her subjects included Native American legends, folklore, vocabulary, tribal festivals, basket making, the art trade, and living conditions. Native American artists with whom Nicholson established long-term business and personal connections included Pomo basket weaver Mary Benson (1878-1930) and her husband William Benson (1862-1937), as well as Elizabeth Hickox (1875-1947) of the Karuk tribe. Because of her ethnographic work, the American Anthropological Association elected Nicholson to membership in 1904. She facilitated the purchase of artifacts by museums such as the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, the Field Museum in Chicago, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
    In the 1910s, as the market for Native American artifacts declined, Nicholson began expanding her work as an Asian art dealer. In 1912, Nicholson purchased additional land next to her Los Robles Avenue property and, in 1924, hired architects Marston, Van Pelt, and Maybury to renovate the property and construct a Chinese-style palace. Completed in 1929, it became known as the "Grace Nicholson Treasure House of Oriental Art." Following a 1929 trip to China and Japan, Nicholson dealt almost exclusively in Asian arts and craft.
    In 1943, facing financial difficulties, Nicholson entered into an agreement with the City of Pasadena and the Pasadena Art Institute that transformed her Los Robles building into the Pasadena Art Institute. In 1954, the Institute was renamed the Pasadena Art Museum; it occupied the building until 1970, when it moved to a new Pasadena location and became the Norton Simon Museum. The Pacificulture Foundation founded the Pacific Asia Museum in the "Treasure House" in 1971.
    Nicholson continued to live at 46 North Los Robles, but she moved her shop to a smaller building at 45 South Euclid Avenue in Pasadena in 1944, and her assistants Thyra H. Maxwell and Estelle Bynum assumed growing responsibilities for it. Nicholson died on August 31, 1948.
    Following Nicholson's death, her Native American Indian art collection was left to Maxwell and Bynum, the executors of her estate; her 12,000-item Asian art collection was auctioned by the Curtis Gallery in November 1950 and purchased by Los Angeles businessman Edker Pope. In 1968, Maxwell donated Nicholson's papers and photographs to The Huntington Library and sold Nicholson's collection of baskets made by the Bensons, as well as a large collection of correspondence and myths from William Benson, to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, of New York City (now part of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.).


    Bernardin, Susan, et. al. Trading Gazes: Euro-American Women Photographers and Native North Americans, 1880-1940. (New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003).
    Bsumek, Erika Marie. "Exchanging Places: Virtual Tourism, Vicarious Travel, and the Consumption of Southwestern Indian Artifact" in Rothman, Hal. The Culture of Tourism, the Tourism of Culture: Selling the Past to the Present in the American Southwest University of New Mexico Press, 2003), pp. 118-139.
    Gasser, Maria del Carmen, ed. "My Dear Miss Nicholson" : Letters and Myths by William Benson A Pomo Indian. (Carmel, New York: Printed Privately by the editor, 1995).
    Packer, Rhonda. "Grace Nicholson: An Entrepreneur of Culture" in the Southern California Quarterly. Vol. 76, No. 3 (Fall 1994), pp. 309-322.

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists of two distinct sections: the Grace Nicholson papers (2,926 pieces) and addenda (1,444 pieces). The papers are primarily correspondence, while the addenda is primarily notes. Both relate to Grace Nicholson (d. 1948) and her work in the fields of Native American and Asian art.
    There are many letters in the collection of Native Americans corresponding with Nicholson about what it is they are working on as well as thanking her for the copies of pictures she took of them. Complementing these letters are the extensive diaries and notes that Nicholson kept on her buying trips through Native American territory, especially of the Karok, Klamath, and Pomo Indians, covering the subjects of Native American legends, folklore, vocabulary, tribal festivals, basket making, business in art trade, and living conditions.
    There is also a considerable amount of correspondence from China, Japan, and Korea between Nicholson and her buyers, as well as from Nicholson herself on the trip she took there in 1929. Asian art figures well in the collection and covers a broad range of subjects such as Chinese art and architecture, Japanese art, Korean art, Javanese textiles, Siamese art, Philippine art, life and social conditions in Asia, and the business of trading Asian art.
    Being a well-known dealer in Native American and Asian art, Nicholson was in contact with many artists, such as Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928), W. Herbert Dunton (1878-1936), Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944), Elizabeth Conrad Hickox (1872-1947), Louise Merrill Hickox (1896-1962), Grace Carpenter Hudson (1865-1937), George Wharton James (1858-1923), Lilian Miller, Hovsep T. Pushman (1877-1966), Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953), and Millard Sheets (b. 1907).
    Nicholson was also in contact with and purchased materials for many fine art and historical institutions such as the Field Museum of Natural History, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, the Pasadena Art Museum, and the Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.).
    Her intimate relationships with Native Americans give particular insight into their lives and culture. Thus she was a key source of information about them and historians and academics sought her out, including A. L. (Alfred Lewis) Kroeber (1876-1960), Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859-1928), and C. Hart (Clinton Hart) Merriam (1855-1942).
    Nicholson also received correspondence from political figures such as Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956), Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), Hiram Johnson (1866-1945), and Franklin D. (Franklin Delano) Roosevelt (1882-1945).
    Two people who figure prominently in the collection are Estelle Bynum and Thyra H. Maxwell. These two women were assistants of Grace Nicholson and after her death were also the executors of her estate.


    The collection is organized in two sections: the Grace Nicholson papers and the addenda and arranged in the subseries below:
    • Grace Nicholson papers (1822-1951)
      • 1. Correspondence – arranged alphabetically (Boxes 1-11)
      • 2. Family papers (Box 12)
      • 3. Building and Pasadena Art Institute papers (Box 13)
      • 4. Indian notes (Boxes 14-17)
      • 5. Oriental notes and misc. materials (Box 18)
      • 6. Letterbooks (Box 19)
      • 7. Architectural drawings – 1 roll
      • 8. Oversize folder: Indian Map of California
    • Addenda (1784-1975)
      • 1. Correspondence – arranged alphabetically (Box 1)
      • 2. Chinese art (Box 2)
      • 3. Box 3 (Transferred to Photo Archives, Rare Books Department, Huntington Library, June 1995)
      • 4. Indians of North America (Box 4)
      • 5. Japanese art (Box 5)
      • 6. Tibetan art (Box 6)
      • 7. Family notes and travel materials (Box 7)
      • 8. Grace Nicholson gallery and Chinese garden (Box 8)
      • 9. Manuscript notes, drawings, and printed materials (Box 9)
      • 10. Ephemera and clippings (Box 10)
      • 11. Ephemera and realia (Box 11)
      • 12. Indian scrapbooks – 3 volumes
      • 13. Oversize folders – 8 folders

    Indexing Terms

    Personal Names

    Hartmann, Sadakichi, 1867-1944.
    Hickox, Elizabeth Conrad, 1872-1947.
    Hudson, Grace Carpenter, 1865-1937.
    Nicholson, Grace, d. 1948.
    Pushman, Hovsep T., 1877-1966.

    Corporate Names

    Field Museum of Natural History.
    Honolulu Academy of Arts.
    Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art.
    Pacific Asia Museum
    Pasadena Art Museum.
    Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)


    Architecture, Chinese.
    Art -- California -- Pasadena -- Exhibitions.
    Art, Asian.
    Art, Chinese.
    Art, Japanese.
    Art, Korean.
    Art, Philippine.
    Art, Thai.
    Art objects -- Collectors and collecting -- California -- History.
    Art objects, Asian.
    Art objects, Chinese.
    Art objects, Japanese.
    Art objects, Korean.
    Art objects, Thai.
    Basket making -- Klamath River Valley (Or. and Calif.) -- History.
    Gardens, Chinese.
    Karok baskets -- Collectors and collecting -- California.
    Karok Indians -- Social life and customs.
    Karok women -- Biography.
    Klamath Indians -- Social life and customs.
    Indian art -- California.
    Indian art -- Northwest, Pacific.
    Women -- California
    Indian basket makers -- California.
    Indian basket makers -- Northwest, Pacific.
    Indian basket makers -- Southwest, New.
    Indian baskets -- California.
    Indian baskets -- Northwest, Pacific.
    Indian baskets -- Southwest, New.
    Indian painting -- California.
    Indian painting -- Northwest, Pacific.
    Indian painting -- Southwest, New.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Antiquities.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Economic conditions.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Folklore.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Languages.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Antiquities -- Collectors and collecting.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Rites and ceremonies.
    Indians of North America -- California -- Social life and customs.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Antiquities.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Antiquities -- Collectors and collecting.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Economic conditions.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Folklore.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Languages.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Folklore.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Rites and ceremonies.
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Social life and customs.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Antiquities.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Antiquities -- Collectors and collecting.
    Indian art -- Southwest, New.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Economic conditions.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Folklore.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Languages.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Rites and ceremonies.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Social life and customs.
    Pomo baskets -- California -- Mendocino County.
    Pomo Indians -- Correspondence.
    Pomo Indians -- Folklore.
    Pomo Indians -- Social life and customs.
    Women art collectors -- California -- Pasadena -- Archives.

    Geographic Areas

    Arizona -- Description and travel.
    California -- Description and travel.
    China -- Description and travel.
    China -- Social life and customs.
    Japan -- Description and travel.
    Japan -- Social life and customs.
    Klamath Indian Reservation (Or.)
    Korea -- Description and travel.
    New Mexico -- Description and travel.
    Oregon -- Description and travel.
    Buildings -- California -- Pasadena.
    Pasadena (Calif.) -- Description and travel.
    Pasadena (Calif.) -- Social life and customs.
    Washington (State) -- Description and travel.


    Clippings 19th century. (aat)
    Clippings 20th century. (aat)
    Ephemera California Pasadena 20th century. (aat)
    Ephemera 20th century. (aat)
    Letters (correspondence) 19th century. (aat)
    Letters (correspondence) 20th century. (aat)
    Photographs 19th century. (aat)
    Photographs 20th century. (aat)


    Bridgman, Frederick Arthur, 1872-1928.
    Dunton, W. Herbert, 1878-1936.
    Hartman, Carroll S., 1860-1933.
    Hartmann, Sadakichi, 1867-1944.
    Hickox, Elizabeth Conrad, 1872-1947.
    Hickox, Louise Merrill, 1896-1962.
    Hodge, Franklin Webb, 1864-1956.
    Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964.
    Hudson, Grace Carpenter, 1865-1937.
    James, George Wharton, 1858-1923.
    Johnson, Hiram, 1866-1945.
    Kroeber, A. L. (Alfred Louis), 1876-1960.
    Lummis, Charles Fletcher, 1859-1928.
    Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942.
    Miller, Lilian.
    Pushman, Hovsep T., 1877-1966.
    Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945.
    Sharp, Joseph Henry, 1859-1953.
    Sauerwein, Frank Paul, 1871-1910.
    Bynum, Estelle.
    Maxwell, Thyra H.