The Avery Collection was formed by the New York art dealer Samuel Putnam Avery (1822–1904) and given to The New York Public Library in 1900, the foundational collection of the Library's Print Collection
. Avery's intention was to document the art of his own day and he attempted to secure one or more examples of the work of every contemporary artist he had met or of whom he had heard. The result was a collection of 17,775 etchings and lithographs, representing 978 artists. French printmakers are especially well represented, reflecting Avery's own taste and interests as well as the importance of French printmaking during the latter part of the 19th century, but the collection also includes works by German, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, English, and American artists.
Among the French artists, the collection is particularly rich in etchings by Adolphe Appian, Félix Bracquemond, Félix Buhot, Leopold Flameng, Charles Jacque, Jules Jacquemart, Charles Méryon, A. P. Martial, and Paul Adolphe Rajon. For example, there are more than four hundred etchings by Jacque, as well as original drawings by the artist and lithographs and wood engravings after Jacque's designs. Also included are clichés-verre by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet, and Théodore Rousseau, and an important group of etchings and lithographs by Edouard Manet. The English prints include a large number of etchings by Sir Francis Seymour Haden and a fine set of J.M.W. Turner's Liber Studiorum. Remarkable among Avery's strong holdings of the prints of Francisco Goya is a set of fine early impressions of the Caprichos, purchased from the collection of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Among American artists are major groups of prints by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt. Early lithographs in the collection include works by Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, as well as works by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Wilhelm Reuter, Pierre Nolasque Bergeret, Thomas Barker of Bath, and many others.
Avery formed close personal friendships with many of these artists, and some of the prints include manuscript notes indicating the state, rarity, and edition size as well as friendly dedications to the collector. Such information is not commonly available for 19th-century prints and these inscriptions were clearly made at Avery's own personal instigation. The collection includes many rare or unique proofs, and it is not uncommon for a single print to be present in eight or more separate states in various stages of completion.
Avery, Samuel Putnam, The Diaries 1871–1882 of Samuel P. Avery, Art Dealer. Madeleine Fidell Beaufort, Herbert L. Kleinfeld and Jeanne K. Welcher, eds. (New York: Arno Press, 1979).
Bonn, Arthur, comp. A Handbook of the S. P. Avery Collection of Prints and Art Books in The New York Public Library. Additions, by Donation, from the Misses Welcher (Emma Avery, Alice Lee, and Amy Ogden). (New York: NYPL, ca. 1926).
Bulletin of the New York Public Library. 14: 90–91; 24: 719–736; 30: 864–867.
A Handbook of the S. P. Avery Collection of Prints and Art Books in The New York Public Library. (New York: De Vinne Press, 1901).
Ruby, Louisa Wood. "Samuel Putnam Avery as a Collector of Drawings: A Complete Checklist from The New York Public Library's Print Collection. Biblion: The Bulletin of The New York Public Library. 9: 1/2, 104–147.
Frank Weitenkampf, comp. Supplement to the Handbook of the S. P. Avery Collection in The New York Public Library. Additions of Prints, 1901–1920. New York: NYPL, 1921.