John S. Van E. Kohn Collection of Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874-1963), one of the most prominent American poets in history, passed away on January 29, 1963. In honor of the anniversary of his death and the snowy weather that we had this week, I thought that I would take a peek at our Robert Frost collection.

The John S. Van E. Kohn collection of Robert Frost has been in our possession since the 1980’s. John S. Van E. Kohn was a book collector and owned a bookshop in New York City. At the time of his death in 1976 he was known for owning one of the finest collections of Robert Frost works. The collection itself is made up of two boxes of organized folders containing correspondence, programs from one of many Frost-related events, and photographs of Frost.

A man with his arm around the neck of a horse

A photograph from the collection of Robert Frost with a horse.

Much of the collection is correspondence, which isn’t always the most exciting to read. Kohn spent lots of time corresponding with book collectors and with Frost and his family members. My favorite of this section is this little letter to John that is told entirely with drawings. I’m guessing that the sender went on a cruise/trip of some sort, and included stick-figure comics of activities. On the back of the letter is the best part, it says “What we didn’t do” and has an image of a stick figure who is seasick (I presume)!

A series of eight drawings of people doing these activities: looking over the edge of a boat at the ocean, playing shuffleboard, reading in a chair, drinking at a bistro table, eating dinner, sunbathing, dancing, and peeking from behind a door.

Eight stick-figure drawings of people doing various things that one would do on a cruise or a trip.

A small drawing of a stick figure vomiting into the ocean over the side of a ship

A stick figure drawing of a person vomiting over the side of a ship into the ocean.










The ephemera is made up of booklets and programs from the many events that honored Robert Frost posthumously. Having won four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry during his lifetime, his death over fifty years ago was a devastating in the literary world. We have some more intimate things, such as a copy of his last will and testament and programs from his memorial service and the services of other members of his family.

The front cover for a program from Amherst College stating "In Memory of Robert Frost" on the cover

Program from Amherst College Robert Frost Memorial

What I love about this collection is how it can inform us about Kohn’s relationship with Frost. Collections are often reflections on the collector as well as the subject. All of the ephemera in and correspondence in this collection was saved for reasons, some of them we may never understand. A researcher could learn about how Kohn conducted business and amassed his collection through the letters and articles present in our collection. These collections are snippets of many lives.

If you’re interested in seeing this or any of our other collections, please come visit us on the fifth floor of the McFarlin Library M-F from 8-4:30.


About Kelsey Hildebrand

Kelsey is GA in the Special Collections department currently pursuing a Master's in Museum Science and Management.
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