Ellin Berlin Papers

Identifier: 90-87

Scope and Contents

The Ellin Mackay Berlin Papers are mainly a compilation of material relating to the research and preparation of Berlin’s novel, Silver Platter, about her grandmother Marie Louise Hungerford Bryant Mackay (1843-1928), the wife of one of the Comstock’s Bonanza Kings, John William Mackay. Ellin Berlin conducted her research from approximately 1947 through the publication of the book in 1957.

Since each of the three daughters retained part of the collection and there was no original order to the materials, the decision was made to assemble the papers in what seemed to be the logical time progression from the beginning of Berlin’s research in approximately 1947 or 1948 to the publication of the novel Silver Platter in 1957. Therefore, the collection is arranged in twelve series that follow the author’s progress from her initial want ad through the various types of research collections used, to her typed transcripts and then to the final galleys.

The Ellin Mackay Berlin Papers contain very little personal information about Ellin herself and even less about her husband, Irving Berlin. What personal information it does contain is mostly about her grandparents, Louise and John William Mackay. Specific details of John Mackay’s mines are not a part of this collection, however, although there is adequate information on his life, especially in the compilations to be found in Series 2/8. A limited amount of information on Mackay’s business endeavors in the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company and the Commercial Cable Company can be found in Series 2. Some information on the Nevada Bank of San Francisco and the Bank of California can be found in Series 6.

The research materials that Ellin Berlin collected are extensive, and especially rich in period details. She lived in New York which, therefore, necessitated the use of many assistants in the gathering of information from California, Nevada, and Europe. Many of the individuals and repositories she contacted for research assistance can be found in Series 5, while Series 7 contains her extensive newspaper research, including information from many 19th century newspapers: summaries, copies and originals. Series 8: Ephemera, contains invitations to social events, and other activities that were common from 1860-1923, all of them original items, although there is no specific information that any of them belonged to Louise Mackay.

Especially interesting are the catalogs, maps, brochures, pamphlets and booklets that can be found in Series 9. Many of these printed materials are originals, including an 1859 map of the Gold Hill Front Lodes, an 1875 pocket map of the Comstock Lode, and an 1868 song book. Some of the arguments surrounding the Bonanza mines can be found in Series 9, Subseries Four, as well as an interesting variety of newspaper clippings relating to mining and the Sutro Tunnel (1868-1869) collected in a scrapbook (series 9/subseries 4/folder 24).

The last three series contain the record of what would seem to be Berlin’s process in putting together her book. Series 10 and 11 provide a look at the author’s organizational steps as she arranged her research, sometimes beginning a direction and seeming to abandon it for another, resulting in a topic on which a few pages only are written. Series 12 follows the process that one would expect an author to follow in writing the book itself, from typescripts to the final galleys. A copy of the published novel Silver Platter is not part of this collection but is available in the Special Collections Department.

Researchers may wish to be aware of the following. First, Series 1 contains three letters in French. Second, during Berlin’s researching period (1940s and 1950s) it was common to have copies made by a photostatic process, which resulted in reversed or mirrored copies. As part of the processing of this collection most of these pages have been scanned and then reversed and printed, orienting the pages as they were originally which allows them to be more easily read. Many of these copies will be found in the letters to John Mackay in Series 2.

All in all, the Ellin Mackay Berlin Papers have two emphases. First is the process by which a published novel is assembled, and second is the wealth of 19th century original materials that the author accumulated. Anyone interested in either of these areas will find this collection of interest.


  • 1833-1973
  • Majority of material found within 1948-1957


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

Ellin Mackay Berlin was born in New York in 1903, the daughter of Katherine and Clarence Hungerford Mackay. Clarence was the son of John Mackay and his wife Louise. Ellin had a sister, Katherine, named for their mother. Their parents were later divorced and her mother remarried (Katherine Blake).

Ellin Mackay married Irving Berlin, the composer, at City Hall in New York on January 4, 1926, against her father’s wishes. Ellin and Irving remained married until her death and they were described as a very private and loving couple. They had three daughters: Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Emmett, and Elizabeth Peters and a son who died in infancy. Ellin Mackay Berlin died in 1988 and Irving Berlin died in 1989 at 101.

Ellin Mackay Berlin planned to write a novel about her grandmother, Louise Mackay. The resulting book, Silver Platter, was published by Doubleday in 1957. This book was her third novel published by Doubleday, the others being Land I Have Chosen (1944), and Lace Curtain (1948). A later novel The Best of Families was also published by Doubleday (1970).

In Silver Platter, Berlin strove to show the defining aspects of her grandmother’s life, both family and social. A brief look at her grandparents, Louise Mackay and John William Mackay, seems appropriate at this point.

Louise Mackay was born Marie Louise Antoinette Hungerford in Downieville, California in 1843, the daughter of Eveline and Daniel Hungerford. Colonel Hungerford had served in the New York Militia and at the Battle of Vera Cruz. He migrated to the west coast and from there to Nevada Territory during the Paiute Wars. Returning to the East at the onset of the Civil War, he served in the Army of the Potomac. Louise married Edmond Bryant, a dentist, at the age of sixteen. Dr. Bryant died in 1863 in Virginia City, Nevada, leaving twenty year old Louise alone with her daughter, Eva. Louise married John Mackay in Virginia City, Nevada, on November 25, 1867.

Louise died in 1928.

John William Mackay was born in Dublin, Ireland on November 28, 1831, and came to New York with his parents in 1840. In 1851 Mackay was in California working as a placer miner, and then walked over the Sierra Nevada to Washoe in Nevada Territory in 1859. He progressed from being a miner to mine superintendent and eventually became a famous and extremely prosperous mine owner.

John Mackay became a very wealthy man, following which Louise moved to San Francisco, where her son, John William Mackay, Jr., was born on August 12, 1870. Her second son, Clarence Hungerford Mackay, was born on April 17, 1874, also in San Francisco. In addition to San Francisco, she spent many years living in New York, Paris, and London. Louise was a self-described social climber and Berlin’s book contains many details of her social activities.

John William Mackay died in London on July 21, 1902.


7.6 Linear Feet (9 boxes)

Language of Materials



Materials relating to the research and preparation of Berlin's novel Silver Platter, about her grandmother Louise Mackay, the wife of one of the Comstock's Bonanza Kings, John Mackay. Berlin conducted her research from approximately 1947 through the publication of the book in 1957. Includes research notes and correspondence; early drafts and proofs of the novel; originals and copies of 19th and early 20th century newspapers, pamphlets and ephemera, mainly from California and Nevada.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Ellin Mackay Berlin; 2) Louise and John Mackay; 3) The Extended Mackay Family; 4) Other People; 5) Research Correspondence; 6) Places and Companies; 7) Newspaper Research; 8) Ephemera; 9) Printed Materials; 10) Research Notes: By Topic; 11) Research Notes; 12) Drafting Silver Platter

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Ellin Berlin's three daughters, Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Emmett, and Elizabeth Peters in December 1990. An additional donation was made in August 2015.

Related Materials

Researchers may also want to consult additional Ellin Berlin correspondence in Manuscript Collection 90-88, which contains three letters from Ellin Berlin to Catherine Wenzel, dated April 7 and May 23, 1956 and April 24, 1957.

Additionally, significant correspondence between Clarence, Ellin, and other family members is contained in the Clarence H. Mackay Family Correspondence, 2015-19.

Separated Materials

With one exception in Series 1, the photographs have been removed to the Photo Archives as collection UNRS-P1997-06.


Guide to the Papers of Ellin Berlin
Patricia Stich and Jacquelyn Sundstrand
September 2005
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)