Swiss artist and avid collector Pierre Eugene Du Simitière (ca. 1736-1784) traveled around North America and the West Indies gathering natural specimens, coins, paper documents, and graphics, which he later displayed in Philadelphia’s first public museum, established by him in 1782. Upon Du Simitière’s death, the Library Company purchased most of his museum’s collection, including this print, the only extant copy of the only known cartoon drawn by painter John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Du Simitière identified Copley as the artist in the hand-written note at the top margin. The cartoon with its swirling figures covering the entire sheet captures the anxiety felt on both sides of the Atlantic with the passage of the Stamp Act. In order to be effective, political cartoons rely on a shared basis of knowledge between the creator and the viewer. A detailed explanation of this print in the November 21,1765 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette suggests the cartoon’s iconography was too complex for even a contemporary audience.
Prominent Philadelphia lawyer, President of the Bank of Pennsylvania, and Library Company shareholder Joseph Parker Norris (1763-1841) donated this copy of Holme’s well-known map. Surveyor Thomas Holme ( -1695) originally created the map in 1683 as the frontispiece for William Penn’s promotional pamphlet encouraging settlement in the colony. Considered to be among the Library’s treasures, our copies of the Holme map were among the very few graphic items crated and sent to a bank storage vault for protection during World War Two.
When artist Edward W. Clay (1799-1857) presented this portrait of Jacque Alexander Tardy (1767-1827) to Philadelphia physician James Rush (1786-1869), the exploits of the infamous criminal were still fresh in the public’s imagination. Tardy’s ties to Philadelphia may also have intrigued Rush. For about four years, Tardy worked as a tinsmith in the city, and later served time in Walnut Street Jail. In 1812, Tardy went to sea as a legitimate sailor, but soon began a crime spree that escalated from stealing property to fatally poisoning passengers and crew. He committed suicide to avoid capture. Later, his body was exhumed for medical study, possibly another reason for Rush’s interest in the watercolor. Unfortunately, when a forensic anthropologist for the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum, which currently houses Tardy’s skull, reconstructed the pirate’s face she did not have access to the portrait. It was minimally cataloged and not digitized until the Imperfect History project.
In 1800, Philadelphia artist William Russell Birch (1755-1834) published The City of Philadelphia, a set of twenty-seven views issued in parts to more than 150 subscribers. The project’s popularity led Birch to issue multiple editions (1804, 1809, and 1827-1828), and to create more views, including one of the Philadelphia Bank which was added to the 1809 edition. Although the Library Company initially failed to realize the significance of Birch’s work and was not a subscriber to the 1800 edition, antiquarian John McAllister (1786-1877), a Library shareholder, collected Birch’s Philadelphia views and their corresponding copper engraving plates. A penciled note in the upper right corner of this print indicates that he donated it in April 1848, most likely the first Birch Philadelphia view to enter the collection. His son, John A. McAllister (1822-1896), also an antiquarian, later supposedly donated a dozen Birch copper engraving plates, but only two can be found in the collection today.
The early 20th century was a financially difficult time for the Library Company before it was established as an independent research library with one location. Records of graphic arts accessions are nearly non-existent during this period when the institution was also, for a time, under the administration of the Free Library of Philadelphia. “Possessions of the late Major Andre,” "Portfolio of Civil War cartoons (Confederate) by Adalbert Volck Jr.,” and a "collection of papers of James Barton Longacre" acquired in 1900, 1935, and 1948, respectively, are three of the few such noted accessions. Each represents the sociopolitical conditions of the country and era in which they were created and acquired. The Andre items were given during a period of Colonial Revivalism and the Volck material was received when the country was in a Depression and the threat of fascism and nationalism gripped world politics. The Longacre Collection was purchased as the United States became a world superpower and beacon of democracy. Relatedly, the provenance of the Woerner drawing is only known because of information printed on its mat.
In May 1778, British loyalists threw an elaborate party for departing British General William Howe (1729-1814) at the Wharton estate in South Philadelphia. A regatta traveled down the Delaware River to the site where the 400 guests watched a jousting tournament, danced, and feasted at a banquet. This ticket, purportedly designed by Major John André (1751-1780), who was hanged as a spy by the Continental Army in 1780, was part of a larger collection of American Revolutionary war material described by Library Company Directors as the most historically important gift of 1900. Only one other Meschianza ticket is known to still exist.
Between 1863 and 1864 and under the pseudonym V. Blada, German immigrant and Baltimore dentist Adalbert Volck (1828-1912) issued the scathing, pro-Confederacy Sketches from the Civil War in North America. Issued over two portfolios to less than 200 subscribers, the views present Northern society, government, and culture as corrupt, uncivilized, and hypocritical. Union soldiers are degenerative savages. Southern society, government, and culture is shown as noble, under persecution, and with a benevolent system of enslavement. Confederate soldiers are God-fearing, honorable, and heroic. Distributed with little demand in the 1860s, the series was reissued as facsimiles in the 1880s and in 1917. When received by the Library Company in 1935, Volck and the Sketches had become icons of the "Lost Cause" of the South.
In 1948, the Library Company, when under the administration of the Free Library, purchased "a collection of papers of Joseph Bartram Longacre consisting of literature matter, letters, and numismatics. ... for $2100." James B. Longacre (1794-1869) was the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint from 1845 to his death. He was also a banknote engraver and the co-creator of the milestone, four-volume National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans (1834-1838). Acquired mainly for Longacre's role at the Mint and corresponding materials, the collection steeped in patriotic American imagery, is also a trove for the study of antebellum artists’ creative and professional processes and networks. Hundreds of sketches, proof prints, and specimens of Longacre's work before his appointment at the Mint provide practical and visual insights into the life of the production of a print and its engraver.
Drawn by Helen Louise Werner (1905-1967), the first woman to teach in the University of Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts, this drawing shows the exterior of the uptown circulating branch of the Library Company when part of the Free Library. Formerly housed in a Frank Furness building opened in 1880 and sold in 1939, the branch operated from the former Centaur Book and Record store depicted in this 1936 view. When given in 1950 by Josephine Wood Linn in memory of her spouse, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, and a director of the Free Library William B. Linn (1872-1950), the original art work would have been likely added to the holdings and hung at the Ridgway Building, then the primary repository of the Library. Woerner's drawings were often reproduced as post, holiday, and keepsake cards, and examples of her work are included in our ephemera collections. Her ideology, noted in newspaper accounts, was to be "practical" and to "combine art work with what people want to buy."
Scrapbooks (and albums) of visual materials have had a defining role in the evolution of the Graphic Arts Collection since at least Charles A. Poulson's mid-19th century bequest. Knowing how, by who, and when these bound repositories of works of art came into existence at the Library Company provide a window on how a collection curated ad hoc informed the creation of the Graphic Arts Department. When provenance information is not known, the contents of the scrapbook can still provide knowledge as to how the volume came to be.
The Library Company acquired more than seventy-five Philadelphia area photographs by John Moran (1831-1903) as its third graphic arts purchase. A member of an artistic family that included brother Thomas (1837-1926) who painted large Western American landscapes, John brought a discerning eye for perspective, framing, and detail to his landscape and architectural photographs. These qualities are visible in this view of the Reverend Richard Blackwell’s late 18th-century Philadelphia residence. (For another example of Moran Family artwork, see brother Peter Moran’s sketchbook in “Inception, Collection, Reception.”)
Despite the importance of John Moran’s photographic work, Library Company staff began pasting unrelated photographs on the “empty” reverse side of each Moran photograph mount, likely work undertaken sometime in the early 20th century. Many of these additional images relate to the Library’s buildings such as the one reproduced here. Images of Library collection items, views of historical sites, and random visuals of Philadelphia scenes were all added. Belying the seemingly casual appropriation of the Moran collection for use as a scrapbook, a Library staff member carefully noted on the title page that the collection now included work by “others” and added an “etc.” to the 1868-1869 date range given to the Moran photographs.
When Library Company shareholder, Philadelphia-born novelist, journalist, and foreign correspondent Anne Hampton Brewster (1819-1892) bequeathed her entire library to the institution in 1892, she became the third recorded woman donor to the Graphic Arts Collection. Included in her library was this scrapbook of photographic reproductions and prints probably compiled during her residency in Italy from 1868 to her death. Brewster gave this scrapbook not as an archive of Philadelphia visual history but as an archive of an expatriate Philadelphia professional who studied and wrote about art and architecture. Captioned works of art rest aside personal tokens, such as the allegorical etching and holiday greeting by Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929). Given with the wish that her library be in a "compartment of its own," the multi-media collection, as with many given in the past to the Library, had its graphics, including the album, separated out and housed in the Graphic Arts Department.
This 1872 portrait of Brewster drawn by the Danish sculptor Jens Adolf Jerichau (1816-1883) was one of a small number of depictions of her included in her bequest. Primarily educated at home as a child, Brewster studied drawing with an artist referred to as Ruben Smith. This was likely traveling New York artist John Rubens Smith (1775-1849) whose watercolor of the Fairmount Water Works is also in this exhibition.
Beginning in the later 19th-century, Library Company staff and volunteers placed "loose" graphic materials received singularly and as collections in scrapbooks as a means to house, arrange, and organize the prints, original art works, and photographs received previously. The provenance of these materials is often unknown. With the establishment of the Graphic Arts Department, formerly the Print Department, in 1971, the majority of these staff-devised, as well as donated scrapbooks were dismantled. The graphics were individually housed for better access and preservation.
Over one hundred years before we received the Richard DeReef Venning Album exhibited in Section “As Time Goes by,” this racist image of Black, middle-class life in antebellum Philadelphia was placed in a "scrapbook of caricatures" in 1893, soon after the Library Company received the Brewster scrapbook. The lithograph was drawn by Edward W. Clay (1799-1857), a white caricaturist from a wealthy Philadelphia family. Contemporary newspaper accounts alleged "there would be more truth in the satire, were the subjects white" because "a black dandy … generally prefers a shabby friend to one as spruce as himself .... " About the same time, Clay also drew similar caricatures for the series Life in Philadelphia. This print, whether acquired by the Library in the 1820s or later, shows an antebellum Philadelphia where Black, middle-class individuals like silhouettist Moses Williams represented a civil threat to the white hegemony to be visually and socially denigrated. Although held by the Library at the time of its benchmark exhibition Negro History in 1969, graphic materials of this nature were not included.
After his manumission in 1802, African American Moses Williams (1777-ca. 1825) worked as a silhouette artist in Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia museum for more than twenty years, creating thousands of profile portraits for visitors to take home for a small additional cost. Williams is most likely the creator of this portrait, although older scholarship attributed it to Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825), one of Charles’s sons who also made silhouettes. With a lock of hair falling over his forehead, his hair pulled back into a queue, and evidence of a necktie, Williams’s profile closely resembles those of the Museum’s largely white patrons. Thanks to his artistic work, Williams was able to join the growing middle-class Black community in Philadelphia. His silhouette is one of the few non-caricatured portrayals of Black individuals found in the McAllister Collection.
A "scrapbook of miscellaneous engravings" compiled by staff in 1900 contained this sensational lithograph, not engraving, published about 1858. Sensational event lithographs, often created from newspaper accounts of the incident, and acquired by information-collecting individuals and public institutions, provided near contemporaneous images of shocking occurrences like a wreck. Before illustrated magazines, such as Harper's Weekly, began in the mid-1850s “showing” the news, lithographs, produced through an efficient, flat-surface printing process, more often served that function. Although never as prolific as New York lithographers Currier & Ives for this genre, some Philadelphia lithographers, including John Childs (ca. 1819-1880), pursued such speculative work. The sinking of a steamship carrying tons of gold during a hurricane was an event worth such a pursuit for profit.
Over a century after its receipt and compilation into scrapbooks by Library Company staff in the late 19th century, the McAllister Collection of thousands of Civil War-era prints, photographs, and ephemera was further processed, cataloged, and digitized for online accessibility and study between 2004 and 2006. Originally placed in a volume labeled "Civil War material," this hand-colored lithograph published by Currier and Ives, the "printmakers to the people" of "cheap and popular prints," could not be resisted by McAllister in his endeavor to preserve the visual culture of this critical time for the country. In this imagined view and frameable print of a historical and news-worthy event, Union Major Robert Anderson (1805-1871) looks to the viewer with concern as his soldiers man cannons during the first battle of the War. Amidst the smoke of the heavy artillery in a fort shown as undamaged, the portrayal of Anderson alludes to the North having lost the encounter.
Construction work on Philadelphia’s City Hall began in 1871 and took more than twenty-five years to complete, progress that was regularly documented photographically. Philadelphia photographer James Cremer (1821-1893) took more than ninety stereographs of the construction between 1873 and 1875 alone. From a slightly elevated vantage point Cremer shows the massiveness of the brick foundation. His inclusion of the Seventh Presbyterian Church in the background places the future municipal building into the fabric and history of the city’s built environment.
Samuel Perkins mostly likely donated the stereographs to the Library Company in his official capacity as President of the Commissioner for the Erection of Public Buildings, a position he held from 1871 to 1891. Perkins wrote that he planned to “transmit from time to time such pictures as may be taken, so that you may have for preservation in your archives a complete photographic record.” At a later date, Library staff bound the donated stereographs and Perkins’ correspondence into two volumes.
Antiquarian John A. McAllister (1822-1896) may have acquired this print because of his friendship with the artist Albert Newsam (1809-1864), or possibly because of his interest in the sitter, John Young (1762-1840), a Philadelphia-trained lawyer who practiced law in western Pennsylvania. The portrait was among the thousands of items donated by McAllister to the Library Company in the late 19th century, most of which were then pasted into huge scrapbooks for easy access and storage. This practice, however, obscured the greater significance of the print. Newsam, a deaf and non-verbal man, used the back of the print to communicate with an unknown person. Newsam’s text discussed who was going to pay for some sketches, what kind of background a client wanted, and which sketches would be accepted, offering a glimpse into how he navigated throughout his career with clients from the hearing community.
In 1942, the Library Company announced at its Annual Meeting that collector and Library Trustee Boise Penrose II (1902-1976) had "mount[ed] and collect[ed] together into one portfolio 68 watercolor sketches and drawings of old Philadelphia ... of the greatest historical interest” and it being “a real benefit to the Library that they are now handsomely mounted and collected into one place for safekeeping.” This watercolor of houses razed in 1859 given by the familiar name Charles A. Poulson was one of a number "that used to hang in various parts of the Ridgway Library in somewhat battered old frames" before being placed into safekeeping. Removed from the "Penrose" scrapbook after the Graphic Arts Department was established, the drawing is one of over a dozen in the holdings painted for Poulson by Philadelphia artist Charles H. Wells (1832-1884) concurrent to when Frederick De Bourg Richards took his preservationist photographs of disappearing architecture for the antiquarian.
In the aftermath of the 1958 publication of Nicholas Wainwright’s book Philadelphia in the Romantic Age of Lithography, the Library Company actively sought out relevant lithographs to add to the collection. The Library’s 1964 Annual Report proudly declared that the graphics collection included 245 of the 480 lithographs listed in Wainwright and “in addition, we have uncovered in old scrapbooks or acquired within the last few years 26 lithographs ‘not in Wainwright.’” This large print combined the talents of one of the city’s most skilled lithographic printers, Peter S. Duval (1804 or 5-1886) with one of its most prolific commercial artists, James Queen (1820 or 21-1886), who also happened to be a volunteer firefighter with the Weccacoe Engine Company in South Philadelphia.
Upon its acquisition, this print was immediately put to use as a historical artwork in the 1969 pathbreaking exhibition Negro History, 1553-1903. The exhibition displayed books, graphics, and manuscripts from the Library Company and Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collections related to African American history. Racial uplift prints like this one provided a counterpoint to the demeaning depictions of the Black community so prevalent in the Library’s graphics collection, including prints such as the Life in Philadelphia series seen elsewhere in this section of the exhibition.
Following the establishment of the Graphic Arts Department in 1971, names of new donors began to frequent our accession records as our collection of Philadelphia iconography and American popular graphic art continued to grow.
For three decades Librarian Edwin Wolf 2nd (1911-1991) voraciously pursued his interest in the Prodigal Son sets of prints, acquiring for the collection both 18th- and 19th-century European and American examples of this visual depiction of the Biblical parable. Wolf lectured about these prints, typically issued in sets of four to six views, and frequently wrote about his research in Annual Report essays. Although he dismissively described the print shown here as part of a “technically poor” Prodigal Son set, he purchased that set and two other complete sets in 1971, the Print Department’s first year in existence.
One of the first American popular graphics art work purchased for the newly established Print Department, this “Founding Father” print purports to be an accurate depiction of Washington’s final hours and was published shortly after his December 1799 death. Martha Washington (1731-1802) watches from the foot of the bed while two physicians attend to the former president. The artist, however, made the decision to not include any of the enslaved people in the Washington household whose presence at the deathbed was recorded in contemporary written descriptions and other later 19th-century visual depictions of the scene.
Librarian Edwin Wolf 2nd described the acquisition of 151 watercolor views of Philadelphia by Benjamin R. Evans (1834-1891) as “the high spot of 1975.” A generous gift from Girard Bank along with donations from Library Company trustees and shareholders made this first significant acquisition by the Graphic Arts Department possible. Commissioned by antiquarian Ferdinand Dreer (1812-1902), Evans created many drawings on site and based others on photographs or earlier artwork. Evans’s views focused on small shops and modest buildings, like Enoch’s Variety Theatre, rather than city landmarks and portrayed a world far neater and homogeneous than the actual city.
Philadelphia architect and artist Alfred Bendiner (1899-1964) achieved fame in the mid-20th century for his caricatures and cartoons. This drawing of a newly constructed building in the area redeveloped after the demolition of the elevated railroad tracks west of City Hall was reproduced in Bendiner’s Philadelphia (1964) along with his scathing commentary describing the Penn Center re-development as “uninspired, [and] already outdated mediocrity.” In 1989 and 1993, the Alfred Bendiner Foundation made additional donations of his work to the Library Company, increasing our holdings to more than 100 sketches and prints. In the late 1960s, the artist’s wife Elizabeth Sutro Bendiner (1904-1991) worked as a volunteer in the Graphic Arts Department inventorying the photograph collection.
Original works of art are held in lesser numbers than other mediums in the Graphic Arts Collection. Following decades of giving primarily prints to the Graphic Arts Department, David Doret, in recent years, along with his spouse Linda G. Mitchell, has given dozens of drawings, sketches, and watercolors from the 19th and 20th centuries. Drawn by Vernon Howe Bailey (1874-1953), a former staff artist of the Philadelphia Times, this pencil work provides a conceptual view of the city unlike those seen in prints and photographs. Bailey, more known for his New York views, created this view of the Commercial Museum for reproduction in the city guide book Historic Philadelphia (1922). Opened in 1897 as a museum promoting manufacturing and international commerce, the massive building, through Howe's drawn lines and shading, looks like a majestic temple fitting its description in the text as "contributing to the advancement of American commerce.”
Following the Library Company’s Everyman Their Own Doctor exhibition in 1998 co-curated by scholar, collector, and later Library Trustee William H. Helfand (1926-2018), the visual culture of popular medicine became a "new" subject strength in the Graphic Arts Department that dovetailed an existing focus in the book collection. When Helfand gave his collection of over 7,000 trade cards related to the popular medicine trade to the Department in 2000, it would be the first of a number of large collections given by him that showcase important connections between the art trade, medicine, and visual rhetoric. He continued to donate to the Graphic Arts Collection throughout his life, including this specimen certificate with a note of deposit for copyright and depicting figures and equipment symbolic of the pharmacy trade, including the Goddess of Health, Hygiea.
Popular medicine trade cards were frequently illustrated with custom, rather than stock designs. The designs of these trade cards for often-dubiously manufactured products were meant to catch the eye with a glance as well as to be looked at repeatedly. For the visual trope devised to promote Dr. Kilmer's Female Remedy first manufactured by Dr. Kilmer & Co. in the 1870s, images of the private and public domains and relationships of women predominate. The visual metaphors and signifiers employed show the life to be had by a middle-class Kilmer consumer transformed from the confinement of immobility on a veranda to one of freedom for recreation, travel, and tranquility. This female empowerment imagery may also have been read as the freedom from motherhood. Advertised as a cure for "suspicious growths," the rhetoric suggests its possible use as an abortifacient as well.
The Philadelphia on Stone (POS) exhibition, in 2010, was years in the making after the 1958 publication of Nicholas Wainwright’s volume about the antebellum-era history of Philadelphia lithography. Hundreds of lithographs in the Library Company's graphic arts holdings, most from Charles A. Poulson, were surveyed. POS continued and expanded the historical narrative until 1878. Artist's studies for the lithographs became a part of the story that started with the city’s first successful commercial establishment in 1828. This watercolor by London-born artist and U.S. art instructor John Rubens Smith (1775-1849) served as the basis for a view printed by early Philadelphia lithographer John T. Bowen (ca. 1801-1856) after a fire destroyed the depicted Upper Ferry Bridge in 1838. The enduring aesthetic beauty of Fairmount and the Water Works served as the subject for lithographs of the city for decades to come.
In 1878, Augustus Kollner (1812-1906), German-born artist and Philadelphia lithographer since the early 1840s, issued Bits of Nature and Some Art Products in Fairmount Park along with three other volumes of small folio pictures of landscapes. Having never undertaken chromolithography, the predominate printed color process for mass popular graphic art at the time, Kollner chose to bring his career in lithography to a close with views drawn in lines and colored with tints to depict bucolic Philadelphia. The series proved unsuccessful in a world of frameable, vibrantly colored landscape parlor prints. In the years to come, Kollner would focus on creating watercolors and paintings. Like with John Rubens Smith and John T. Bowen over forty years earlier, lithographs by another's hand could be based on his works.
Beginning in 1999 and through bequests after her death in 2002, astute Philadelphia collector of ephemera Helen Beitler (1915-2002) gave the Graphic Arts Department an assortment of aesthetically quirky and culturally illustrative visual material. An 1881 "Book of Cabinet Chromos" is a prime example.
A premium for every subscriber of the fiction-article periodical and mail-order catalog The People's Illustrated Fireside Magazine, the gift embodies a nexus of the popular culture of the early 1880s. Fiction reading, cabinet card photography, and chromolithography all informed its creation in concept and content. The cabinet-card size prints provided their readers a miniature parlor “painting” that relayed genre, sentimental, religious, and allegorical stories. The card "Yes" showing a woman deciding about a marriage proposal even includes a depiction of another popular size of studio portrait photographs, the smaller carte de visite.
Since the establishment of the Graphic Arts Department, Department curators have acquired new holdings based on old and new subject strengths within the collection. Philadelphia's role in photography and commercial lithography; the cultural history of American ephemera; and the intersection of visual culture and disability history were subjects of items given since the 19th century and of materials previously overlooked for collection, study, and close looking. At the turn of and into the 21st-century, collecting strengths within the Library Company and the Department, including in social economy, popular medicine, visual culture, and African American and women's history, began to be formalized into Academic Programs to support acquisitions, fellowships, programming, and community outreach.
In 1975 and 1976, two graphics curators, both with a strong interest in photography, were hired in rapid succession. With their hires, institutional attention became more focused on the Library Company’s existing photography holdings and on building upon them. The daguerreotype shown here was the first one purchased for the Graphic Arts Collection, but why this example of an unidentified man taken by an unknown photographer was worthy of acquisition remains a puzzle. It was incorrectly identified as a quarter-plate daguerreotype in the Library’s accession book, indicating that at least some of the Graphics Art Department staff was still learning about this type of material.
For more than thirty years this daguerreotype had been attributed to pioneering Philadelphia daguerreotypist Robert Cornelius (1809-1893) based on a scientific analysis of its silvered copper plate carried out in the early 1980s. By participating in a 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities survey project designed to examine all known Cornelius images and to discover new examples, we learned that this daguerreotype was actually created by John Houston Mifflin (1807-1888). Mifflin, an itinerant portrait painter, likely learned the art of daguerreotyping during a visit to his Philadelphia relatives in late 1840, a time when Cornelius operated the city’s only daguerreotype studio. Mifflin purchased 200 daguerreotype plates from Cornelius and had them shipped to Augusta, Georgia where he made this portrait of his cousin, Henry.
In 1978, with the help of the Barra Foundation, the Library Company purchased almost 800 photographic negatives created by Philadelphia commercial photographer William Nicholson Jennings (1860-1946). Additional Jennings photographs and scrapbooks were acquired in 1981 and 2010. The Library’s 1981 Annual Report described the Jennings acquisition as the first “major breach in our time barrier,” paving the way for the graphics collection to pursue other 20th-century material. Over his long career, William Jennings’ clients included the Pennsylvania Railroad and numerous building contractors in the region. This photograph, one of a series of construction progress images, was incorrectly dated on its negative, highlighting the need for curators and researchers to not accept even “factual” information on face value.
Amateur photographer Marriott Canby Morris (1863-1948) took thousands of photographs over a sixty-year period, a large portion of which were donated to the Library Company by his grandchildren who also supported the cataloging and digitization of the collection, helping to make it widely accessible in 2015. From his student days at Haverford College to excursions to the Jersey shore and the Poconos with his family, Morris photographed the daily life of his upper-middle class Philadelphia family. The meticulous journals he kept recording information about each image he took add tremendous research value to the collection.
In 2017, the Library Company purchased about 200 of the thousands of photographs acquired by Robert Swayne, a local antiques dealer and avid collector of books and vernacular photography relating to the Philadelphia region. The photographs, taken by both amateurs and professionals, show Philadelphia businesses, industries, residences, and civic events, including many views from neighborhoods not well-represented in the collection. Within the collection are fifty-two small photographs by the as-yet-unidentified H. Fetters whose work with its often-dramatic lighting and soft focus captured more than a mere documentation of the scene before the camera’s lens.
For more than fifty years, Philadelphian Raymond Holstein accumulated stereographs of his hometown. The collection of more than 2,000 items has the expected views of the Centennial Exposition, Independence Hall, and the city’s business district, but also includes less frequently documented neighborhoods such as this scene in Chinatown. Created to be looked at in 3-D viewing devices, stereographs were a popular form of parlor entertainment in the late 19th century and gave viewers the opportunity to see both the familiar and unfamiliar from the comfort of their own homes. Subverting expectations, the stereograph does not show clearly identifiable Asian businesses or residents. Instead, the busy street is filled with mostly white pedestrians and buildings decorated with American flags.
The debate over photography as art began soon after the invention of the daguerreotype and continued through the later 19th century. Some early photographers, like John Moran (1831-1903), identified themselves as artists and others as technicians. Many joined photographic societies, like the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, to discuss and share their work. Glass photographic transparencies allowed photographers to project their work to an audience of many viewers at once. The transparent photographs could also become a framed work of art, like the one shown, for display in the window of one's home and audience of one. Given by Library Company shareholder Ivan Jurin in 2019, the glass slide in its 1870 patented and hinged enclosure is the only of its kind in our holdings. It epitomizes the riches to behold of Victorian-era photography understood as an art, technical novelty, and an object of visual and material culture.
This cabinet card photograph was acquired soon after the establishment of the Program in Early American Economy and Society in 1999. During the later 19th century, Philadelphia businesses used the medium of the cabinet card photograph as a means for advertisement and to document their pride in their business. Philadelphia photographer J.F. Corliss specialized in this trade convention and created inviting and captivating views of business proprietors, clerks, and laborers posed in front of their storefront. As with this image of the music store of German-born Charles F. Zimmermann (ca. 1816-1898) at 238 North Second Street since the early 1860s, the store often had large display windows with the business's merchandise as artfully arranged as the posed persons that made and sold them.
From the 18th century and the presentation of the portrait of John Richardson Bobey and before and after the establishment of the Program in African American History in 2007, the Graphic Arts Collection at the Library Company has included visual materials that reflect the racism of their period of production. The depictions are often perpetually similar in their racialized constructions of the Black body, manners, and public/private spaces. Over the centuries, the sociopolitics and the historical and cultural motivations have changed for the acquisition and preservation of these visual materials, complex in meaning and reading. The Negro History exhibition of 1969 did not include the racist imagery that had predominated for centuries. Relatedly, the Library did not yet hold the Stevens-Cogdell/Sander-Vennings Collection of photographs countering this imagery. The selection of works shown responds to and challenges our understandings of those previous gaps and omissions.
Originally issued in Philadelphia between 1828 and 1830, contemporary scholars describe the reading of Blackness portrayed in the Life in Philadelphia series as having dominated visual culture’s contribution to national debates over race and power into the 21st century. Comprised of fourteen etchings, with the majority racistly targeting the attire, manners, speech, and consumerism of Black, middle-class Philadelphians to denote this community as illegitimate citizens, a complete set is held in the Graphic Arts Department. The provenance of many of these prints, including reprinted editions, variants, and British adaptations between the 1830s and 1860 were not recorded in the Library Company’s accession files. Several of the prints were acquired immediately before and after 1969.
Over seventy years after Life in Philadelphia Plate 11, "Have you any flesh coloured silk stockings ..." was published, Underwood and Underwood issued this "comic" stereograph with the near exact same visual trope. An insidious continuation of the iconic racist visual vocabulary begun with the Life series, the photograph physically denigrates the woman consumer figure even further with a man actor attired as the character.
The Stevens-Cogdell/Sanders-Venning Collection contains several 19th- and 20th-century portrait photographs of members of the extended Black families descended from the relationship of Richard Codgell (1787-1866), South Carolina merchant and enslaver, and Sarah Sanders (1815-1850), an enslaved woman in his household. The portraits embody an anti-racist, counter archive to collections like Life in Philadelphia. Probably a Black family member or friend took this snapshot in the backyard of the residence of Miranda Cogdell Venning (1862-1900), granddaughter of Sarah Sanders. There is both a formalness and candidness to the sitters’ mannerisms in this image taken at the family home since the late 1850s. Miranda, probably the woman seated on the hammock, was the first African American graduate of the Philadelphia Girls High School and Normal School. A school principal, she died of tuberculosis one year after this view was taken. She was thirty-eight years old.
Gallo W. Cheston (ca. 1846-1882) is one of the only known later 19th-century Black Philadelphia portrait photographers. Photographer of Black civil-rights activist Octavius V. Catto (1839-1871), he also photographed this African American militia man in the years following the Civil War when a number of African American units formed. Advertising himself as a photographer in a "manner as near perfection as possible," that perfection of Cheston’s is seen in this full-length image. The man's stance, placement of his hands on his rifle, and expression are striking. When the retouches were added is unclear. Although visually jarring for a modern viewer, the sitter of this photograph may have requested such hand-colored details be added to his likeness. Such additions were considered fashionable enhancements to 19th-century photographic portraits.
In 2016, the Visual Culture Program exhibition Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind was displayed. Inspired by the Library Company's collections on disability history, particularly printing for the blind, the project influenced further development of our graphic arts holdings of the history of the visual culture of persons with disabilities.
During the mid and later 19th century, studio portrait photographs became affordable for most people. The vogue for carte de visite and later cabinet card photographs provided a means for self-representation through sitters carefully selecting their poses, clothing, and personal tokens to be captured. A photographic likeness that was able to be reproduced in multiples to be given to family and friends, and/or placed in an album, could also be used by some as a means for income. Portrait photographs capable of being reproduced for mass distribution must be viewed with a discerning eye.
When this young blind man had his portrait taken about 1870, he did so while reading. He was most likely reading raised printing resembling the Roman alphabet, not braille. At the time of this photograph, line types that could be read and taught by the sighted predominated at most schools for the blind. In the decades that followed dot systems, like braille, more easily read by the finger were adopted. The question must be asked whether this was a personal portrait or a portrait of a student at a school for the blind meant as a fundraising device for the institution.
The mission of the Visual Culture Program, started in 2008, has evolved over the last decade to include the promotion of visual literacy and further understandings of mass visual culture. Consequently, graphic works embodying atypical visual formats and intersections of material and visual cultures, as well as particularly 19th and 20th-century ephemera—"minor transient documents of everyday life"—have become even more predominant acquisition focuses within the Graphic Arts Department.
Graphic art ephemera epitomizes mass visual culture. It is popular art seen by all classes, ethnicities, genders, and ages in the home, at work, and on the street.
The anthropomorphic depiction of flowers, plants, and vegetables in works of art has occurred for centuries. About 1915, Armstrong Produce issued this ink blotter with not only a humanized, but an eroticized depiction of lettuce to advertise their business. Designed with an Art Nouveau aesthetic, a true, yet disturbing beauty emanates from this female nude printed on a piece of ephemera meant to be used and reused. Typically, of a less provocative nature than the Armstrong design, the graphics on blotters tended to be more comical or literal reproductive views of a product or manufactory. The complexities of an era's visual culture can sometimes be more resolutely found in popular rather than fine art.
Joe Freedman (1928-2013) was a consummate and shrewd collector of ephemera of all kinds, including of, and from Philadelphia. Within his collection of hundreds of visual materials in the Graphic Arts Department are numerous quotidian images that are lively moments from the art of life. A circa 1885 handbill printed in relief with a view of the interior of the Penn'a Roller Rink in North Philadelphia expertly engages the viewer with fashionably attired figures gracefully gliding and toppling in the well-lit rink. As typical with such ephemeral works of art, the print does not contain the name of the artist who also captured the spirit of the bandstand and engrossed spectators.
In 2020, the Department received the Robert Staples Metamorphic Collection of over 1,300 19th- and early 20th-century metamorphic works. Visual materials that morph through the physical engagement with the item, often through a device, such as a flap, metamorphic works have a long and intertwined history with visual and material culture, education, and propaganda. The Staples Collection includes hundreds of metamorphic pieces from when this genre predominated as novelties in advertising. The works are essential sources for the study of the history of graphic design and the popular movements which produced them. The prints also document the disturbing in our visual culture, revealing systemic racism; racial, gender, and class inequalities; and stereotypes of the perceived “other,” which create further complex social meanings in their understanding as moving images that are harmful and offensive.
While over the years, men have predominated as long-term donors or donors of large collections, women since the later 19th century have continually influenced the contents of our holdings as curators, donors, creators, and subjects of works of art.
In the earlier decades of the 20th century and with uneven record keeping a norm, less than a dozen women are recorded as donors or sellers. In 1971, available records indicate we acquired material from just one woman. A decade later, over a dozen women were noted as the provenance of acquisitions in our holdings, an annual number that remains relatively steady in recent years. About this period of the 1980s, the Graphic Arts Department received some of its first traceable graphic art works created by women at the turn-of-the-20th century. In 2019, our Junto campaign in support of the purchase of new acquisitions and in alignment with our Davida T. Deutsch Program in Women's History (endowed in 2013) focused on increasing the presence of women creators in our graphic arts holdings.
Maria Dickinson Logan (1857-1939), great, great-granddaughter of James Logan Gustavus Logan (1674-1751), resided in and worked to preserve the Logan family Germantown estates Loudoun and Stenton. She was also an amateur photographer in that pursuit. In this album of cyanotype photographs of the estates by Logan, she captures interior views of the elegantly-decorated Loudoun parlor and exterior views of the Stenton grounds. Portraits of her brother Albanus as well as herself at a camera outside the Stenton residence are also found among the pages of pictorial-like imagery. At her death, Logan, a Colonial Dame, bequeathed Loudoun to the city of Philadelphia for use as a historic house, as well as established a $20,000 trust for the Library Company in her brother’s memory.
In the mid-1990s, the Library Company purchased two collections totaling almost 1,000 lantern slides relating to Philadelphia photographer William Rau (1855-1920). Interspersed throughout that material were slides taken by William’s wife Louisa Bell Rau (1858-1928) who probably learned photography from her father William Bell (1830-1910), a professional photographer in Philadelphia. Although characterized in family reminiscences as “a homebody,” Louisa traveled with her husband around the United States and to Europe, frequently taking photographs. She was an active participant in the Lantern and Lens Gild of Women Photographers, a Philadelphia-based organization, where she lectured, gave technical demonstrations, organized excursions, and exhibited her work.
From about 1913 until her death, Gertrude Saÿen (1873-1941) operated a photographic studio from her West Philadelphia home, specializing in children’s portraits. The contents of her home and studio remained undisturbed until the residence was sold in the late 1980s. At that time, a neighbor rescued Saÿen’s photographic work, including approximately 7,000 proofs and negatives, along with studio registers and account books, and donated the collection to the Library Company. Saÿen took ten separate poses of young William during his portrait session, including ones in which he held a Noah’s ark toy, a book, and a toy top, but he seemed happiest with the ball seen here.
In November 1939, a last tea was held at the circulating branch of the Library Company when housed in the Juniper Street building built in 1880. Organized by the Ladies' Committee, like many of the programs for the Library at that time, the tea included a talk and exhibition about the history of Philadelphia. Speaker Phoebe Phillips Prime (1883-1964), elucidated upon the “paintings, drawings, sketches, and plans of Old Philadelphia,” on display, including Thomas Holme’s 1683 map of the grid city. Many of these graphic materials would be the ones that were to soon be "handsomely mounted and collected into one place for safekeeping " by Boies Penrose II. Artist Margaret Nefferdorf (1892-1976) attended and commemorated the tea with this etching that captured the atmosphere of the event and the building soon to be vacated and sold. A complementary etching by Nefferdorf of the exterior of the Library Company building was also added to the collections in recent years.
Composed with colors in autumnal shades, this watercolor drawing by Boston architect Lois Lilley Howe (1864-1964) speaks to the artist’s hand and eye needed in the profession. A founding partner in 1890 in Howe, Manny & Almy, the second architectural firm owned by women in the United States, Howe, also a trained artist, and her colleagues specialized in residential and clubhouse projects, predominately in New England. The view possibly depicts the White Mountains in the 1920s when Howe worked on an architectural study of the Robert Means House in Amherst, New Hampshire.