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Guide to the Victor H. Paltsits Papers
1825–1952
(bulk, circa 1890–1952)
 MS 477.1

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta (November-December 2020)

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on December 16, 2020
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical Note

Librarian, bibliographer, and historian Victor Hugo Paltsits (1867–1952) was born in New York City on 12 July 1867 to William Thomas and Sidonia Ida (Loose) Paltsits. His father, a native of Hungary, was the son of a royal banker and prominent merchant, who owned the largest sugar warehouse in Budapest. Victor Paltsits received his early education at public and private schools in New York, and while in high school studied German, Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish, the latter under Cuban poet José Martí (1853–1895). He later delved into Coptic and Egyptian hieroglyphics at Columbia University, and took a four-year scientific course at Cooper Institute.

In 1888 Paltsits began working as a custodian of the art gallery in the Lenox Library, on Fifth Avenue at 70th Street, where he began making notes on the paintings in his care as a means of personal study, and in order to answer the queries of visitors. Under the tutelage of library head Wilberforce Eames (1855–1937), the "Dean of American Bibliographers," Paltsits made his first attempts at bibliographic description. He was promoted to assistant librarian in the Lenox reading room in 1890, and to sub-librarian in 1893. In 1895 the Lenox Library became part of the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. Paltsits's title once again became assistant librarian, but he had charge of the Lenox reading rooms, where he performed the function of chief reference librarian.

Victor Paltsits served as New York State Historian in 1907–1911, during which time he produced editions of Minutes of the Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York (1909–10) and  Minutes of the Executive Council of the Province of New York: Administration of Francis Lovelace, 1668-1673(1910). In Albany Paltsits lobbied the State Legislature—unsuccessfully—to create a unified system of archival records retention. In 1911 he began a seventeen-year association with I. N. Phelps Stokes, providing research and advice for his seminal compilation,  The Iconography of Manhattan Island.

At the New York Public Library—now in its headquarters at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street—Paltsits took charge of the manuscript division beginning in 1914 (under the title "keeper of manuscripts") and of the American History division in 1916, retaining both positions until his retirement in 1941. Although he controlled millions of manuscripts, Paltsits was never an archivist. Nevertheless, he was a founding member of the Society of American Archivists, and his 1912 paper, "Plan and Scope for a Manual of Archival Economy for the Use of American Archivists," has led some to consider him the father of modern archival practice.

The list of works of bibliography, biography, and scholarship produced by Paltsits during his career, not to mention those to which he contributed in his official capacities, is too long to recount. Of note are his Bibliography of the Separate & Collected Works of Philip Freneau, Together with an Account of His Newspaper (1903),  Papers and Proceedings of the Drake Memorial Celebration, May 29, 1915, Together with a Bibliography of the Writings of Dr. Joseph Rodman Drake (1919), and  Narrative of American Voyages and Travels of Captain William Owen, R.N., and Settlement of the Island of Campobello in the Bay of Fundy, 1766–1771 (1942).

Victor Paltsits married Anne Müller (1871–1944) in 1891. They had two children: Florence and Victor John Paltsits. Anne Paltsits died, tragically, a few days after the couple moved into a new home. Paltsits died on 3 October 1952, aged eighty-five, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx.

[For more on Paltsits, see his entries in The National Cyclopædia of American Biography, vol. 17, pp. 198–99, and  Who Was Who in America, vol. 3, p. 663. Box 63 of the present collection contains some thirty-seven works written or edited by Paltsits. Fuller bibliographies are provided by the aforementioned citations.]