The Graphic Arts Department and Reading Room

The Library Company has collected graphic materials throughout its long history. A separate Graphic Arts Department was formed in 1971 to manage, provide access, and more actively develop the Library Company’s graphics holdings. Specializing in works by Philadelphia photographers and printmakers, and images that document the city of Philadelphia, the over 100,000 item collection visually records the history of the Philadelphia area from the late 17th to the mid-20th century through prints, photographs, maps, ephemera, and original drawings and watercolors. In addition to Philadelphia area materials, the graphics collections include historical and commemorative prints, portraits, and political cartoons documenting American history at the national level from the 18th through the early 20th century.

The Graphic Arts Department Reading Room is open to all researchers Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. Researchers should contact a Graphic Arts Department staff member in advance to set up a specific appointment time and to discuss the materials they wish to see. Appointments can be made by emailing or calling the department at 215-546-3181.

Staff may be able to provide reference assistance by email. For reference assistance, please contact staff directly.

Collection Strengths

The graphics collection documents the city’s built environment, commercial and residential life, and cultural history, as well as its role as a center for early photography and printmaking. Many collections are available to researchers online through the digital access repository. Particular strengths of the Print Department include:

  • Views of Philadelphia, including maps, engravings, lithographs, and photographs.
  • Works of important 19th- and early 20th-century professional Philadelphia daguerreotypists and photographers, including Robert Cornelius, Frederick Gutekunst, Langenheim Brothers, John Moran, Robert Newell, Frederick de Bourg Richards, Marcus Root, Montgomery Simons, and William Rau.
  • Works by amateur 19th-century Philadelphia photographers, including George and Mary Vaux and Marriott C. Morris.
  • Political cartoons satirizing national events, social and economic issues, and people, mid-18th century through the Civil War era. Works related to African American and women’s history, popular and visual culture, and medicine and society, including trade cards and advertising prints, portraits, commemorative and memorial works, and albums and scrapbooks.