Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES



Collecting Policy

The strong collections on general photography are administered by the General Research and Humanities Division. Technical works on optics, light, and other subjects are the collecting responsibility of the Science and Technology Research Center. Works on the production of motion pictures form part of the Theatre Collection and are discussed with the resources of that collection. There are three main categories of materials in the field: (1) books and periodicals on all phases of the subject; (2) collections of single photographs usually arranged by subject; and (3) personal papers, diaries, etc., of photographers. The policy governing the acquisition of materials varies for each of the categories.


Books and Periodicals

With over 7,000 entries devoted to photography in all its aspects, the Public Catalog constitutes a useful bibliography of the subject. Included are references to important contributions in the publications of learned and scientific societies and institutions. The Public Catalog is less thorough in citing articles in photographic journals which are treated by such current abstracting services as the Abstracts of Photographic Science and Engineering Literature (1962- ) and its predecessors, the Monthly Abstract Bulletin and Ansco Abstracts, Science, technique & industrie photographiques, and Résumés des travaux des laboratoires de recherches Kodak.

Periodicals of the collections are an important feature; journals, society and club publications, house organs, and other serials, both American and foreign, are represented. Among the nineteenth-century journals of short duration is La Camera obscura (Milan, 1863-67); the library has a complete file of the publication. Of the 28 photographic journals from photography's first decade listed by Helmut Gernsheim, 13 are in the Research Libraries, including 2 long-lived journals, the Photographic Journal (formerly Journal of the Photographic Society of London ) (1853- ), and the Bulletin of the Société française de photographie (1854- )2 Long runs of the camera journals edited by Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Notes (1897-1903) and Camera Work (1903-17), are also present. Currently the library receives 46 photographic journals from all over the world as well as related journals in microphotography and document reproduction.

The acquisition in 1937 of a collection of approximately 50 books, pamphlets, and specimens of the earliest photographic experiments of Fox Talbot and the French school of Daguerre provided the library with many of the early works in the history of photography. The collection had come from the library of Hippolyte Louis Fizeau, himself a pioneer of photography. Among the books are rare works such as L.J.M. Daguerre's Historique et description des procédés du Daguerréotype et du diorama (1839) and its first English translation (1840) by J.S. Memes, as well as copies of Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (1844), said to be the first book with actual photographic illustrations. Other books illustrated with early photographs have been classified according to their subject. Examples of this kind of material are Nathaniel Hawthorne's Transformation (Leipzig, 1860) extra-illustrated with 37 mounted photographs, and Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion (1887) with 781 photoengravings.

Among the library's general materials are approximately 1,000 cataloged pamphlets and many others in the "n.c." classmark (material not separately cataloged), together with such fugitive works as Dagron's Traité de photographie microscopique (1864), the first important description of the process of microphotography.

Individual Photographs

The library generally acquires the work of individual photographers only in book form--commercial publications, annuals of photography, exhibition catalogs, etc. Single photographic prints as an art form are not collected. Individual examples of photography have been collected primarily for subject interest or as examples of early photography. Photographs of the period 1838-52 include a set of original photographs by Fox Talbot, an original colored photograph by Charles Cros, and a number of daguerreotypes. They are from the Fizeau collection. Two photographic transparencies of the moon taken by Professor Henry Draper, the American astronomer, are also of note. Two giant portfolios of photographic views of the Yosemite Valley were presented to the library in 1952 by Albert Boni. They represent the work of C.E. Watkins (1861) and Charles L. Weed (1859), probably the first photographers in the Valley.3

The American History Division maintains a small collection of photographs and other pictorial material relating to subjects within its collecting field: some of the material consists of outsize photographs of such items as fairs and centennials, New York City views, historical views, etc. An extensive group of 30,000 pictures came largely from the Robert Dennis collection. Arranged by state, most of the slides are views, but there are some humorous items and portraits of presidents and other personalities.

The Local History and Genealogy Division has 49 cabinet drawers of photographic views of the five boroughs of New York City, the earliest dating from the late nineteenth century, but the larger number taken in the 1920s and 1930s by Percy Loomis Sperr, who was commissioned by the library to take photographs of buildings soon to be demolished in the New York metropolitan area. The Lewis Wickes Hine photographs document social conditions in New York City from 1905 to 1939. The Armbruster collection of 14,000 photographs of old buildings and their surroundings in Long Island, New York City, and

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Westchester County during the period 1890-1930 was acquired in 1934, but is unindexed and only partially available.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture maintains a photograph collection of many thousands in its field of research, over 15,000 of them indexed. These include materials from the "Harlem on My Mind" Exhibition and picture files from several organizations (the National Urban League, the New York Amsterdam News, etc.).

Photographs made by Carl Van Vechten of his friends have been distributed by subject between the Berg Collection (literary figures), the Dance Collection (dancers), the Theatre Collection (theatrical personalities), and the Manuscripts and Archives Division (all other portraits). In addition, the Dance Collection holds numerous examples of the work of prominent photographers who have portrayed the dance or dancers, including Walter Owen, George Platt Lynes, Wilbur Stephan, Albert Kahn, and others.

In the Theatre Collection a vast archive of pictorial documentation of the theatre, motion pictures, and the circus numbers in the hundreds of thousands of items. More detailed information on this archive is given in connection with the discussion of the Theatre Collection. However, certain extensive groups should be mentioned here, particularly the Francis Bruguiere collection of 2,000 photographic plates made during the period 1918-27 of the principal theatrical productions of that period, and the Florence Vandamm collection of photographs and negatives of New York stage productions from 1920 until 1962. Also notable are the photographs in the G. Maillard Kesslere collection, the Universal Studios "still books" (for which the collection is a depository), and the White Studio "key books" of theatrical photographs for a period of approximately two decades, ending in 1935.

An extraordinary group of photographs of Russian subjects is in the Kennan collection in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. The library's News Bureau office has a cabinet of photographic negatives and slides of the library's Central Building, the old site (Croton Reservoir), and the library's branches, gathered by the late E.W. Gaillard. In connection with this group is the collection of official photographs, now in the Art and Architecture Division, consisting of scrapbook volumes and single photographs devoted to the Astor and Lenox libraries, the Central Building from the beginning of its construction to the present, the buildings of the Branch Libraries, other pictures of library interest, portraits of trustees, officers, and staff, etc. Other material including single photographs of staff members, group pictures, etc., is available in the general collections of the General Research and Humanities Division.

Picture Collection of the Branch Libraries:

The Picture Collection includes among its subject files photographs which are available for circulation to the public. In addition are several noncirculating collections of photographs for reference use within the collection:

Manuscript Materials:

Among the holdings of the Manuscripts and Archives Division are the papers of Peter Henry Van der Weyde, covering the period from 1844 to 1894, valuable for the history of photography. The diaries of William Henry Jackson, given by Mrs. Clarence Jackson in 1942 and 1947, document the life of a pioneer American photographer. They extend from 1862, when Jackson was a Union soldier, until 1942, and cover his daily life as photographer and painter, as well as his travels. There are also letters and sketch books. The register books of Mathew B. Brady from 1863 to 1865 list the persons for whom photographs were made by Brady during the Civil War period and include the autograph signatures of many distinguished persons. The correspondence of Professor Henry Draper with astronomers and other scientists throughout the world, dating from 1869 through 1882, relates in part to Professor Draper's principal contribution to science: valuable spectrum photographs made after 1871, through which sufficient data had been accumulated in 1877 to prove the presence of oxygen in the sun. The papers of Robert Hobart Davis, Elizabeth Buehrmann, and Harry Godfrey also contain material of interest in the study of photography.


The Research Libraries do not collect posters except in a very limited manner for certain established collections such as dance and stage iconography, fine arts, and tobacco. Posters offer special problems in handling because of their size and fragility, and those specimens that are in the library have not been stored in a uniform manner. Some posters have been placed in large print cabinets in the Prints Division and the Theatre Collection; others have been mounted on sheets and bound in portfolio volumes in the Art and Architecture Division; still others have been mounted in oversize bound volumes. Single posters are usually cataloged separately, but bound collections are given collective subject treatment in the Public Catalog. There remain in the Research Libraries the following large categories of posters: theatrical posters, art posters, and advertising posters, including tobacco advertising.

Beginning in 1914 the library began to actively acquire posters related to World War I. By 1919 over 3,000 posters had been accumulated. Photographs of more than two-thirds of these were bound into five large volumes. In 1974, however, the library donated its original posters from World War I, formerly housed in the general collections,

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to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace. The bound volumes of photographs were retained in the stack collections. There is also in the Slavonic Division a one-volume collection of posters, public notices, and decrees collected by John Reed in Russia during the period 1917-18. Election and presidential campaign posters are in the American History Division. Broadsides are a featured holding in the Rare Book Division; a group of broadsides from Lowville, New York, includes twenty-nine Civil War enlistment posters of various sizes.

A collection of hundreds of original posters in the Theatre Collection is strongest for stage materials, with the cinema and the circus represented in smaller numbers. The material ranges in date from the later nineteenth century to the present. The coverage is international, with items from the United States predominating. Posters vary in size from window cards to very large pieces in twelve sheets. Among them are several Alfons Mucha posters of Sarah Bernhardt. Presently in process of being rearranged, many of the posters will be kept in groups by name of artist or play. Cinema posters include many from Sweden and Russia of the 1930s and 1940s; circus posters include those of Wild West shows. The Dance Collection retains about 500 posters and broadsides on the dance from the late eighteenth century to modern times.

Although the Prints Division does not collect posters as a form, it does have examples that represent an integral part of the oeuvre of an artist, as in the case of Bonnard or Toulouse-Lautrec. These posters are classified under the name of the artist.

The Art and Architecture Division has mounted and bound in two portfolio volumes a number of advertising posters, many for books, magazines, and newspapers, made by American artists during the period 1893-1924 and held for their artistic merit. The work of Edward Penfield, Charles H. Wright, and others is included. Additional examples are found in the bound volumes of lithographic publisher's proofs of the publications of L. Prang & Company, 1888.

Other advertising posters of artistic interest collected as specimens of tobacco advertising are in the Arents Collections. About sixty American and a small group of Japanese posters illustrate brands of cigarettes and tobacco of the late nineteenth century.

Books on posters are collected comprehensively by the library. Approximately 350 card entries in the Public Catalog refer to the subject in American, English, and Western European sources; a great number of these are index entries for periodical articles.

The Picture Collection, a unit of the Branch Libraries, has several hundred roughly-classified posters in nineteen boxes. Although there is general coverage of a number of subjects, the concentration is upon the 1940s and World War II, with posters from the United States, Russia, China, England, and other countries. There are also a number of World War I posters, including material on recruiting, the Red Cross, and other subjects.


The Picture Collection, a unit of the Branch Libraries of the New York Public Library, is an indexed and organized collection of picture documents for fact-finding use, historical research, comparison, display, and study. The collection contains over 2,000,000 pictures classified under approximately 8,000 major subject headings. It includes all types of pictorial representation--photographs, postcards, prints, posters, clippings from books and magazines--and covers the entire panorama of world history, architecture, science, apparel, sports, news events, and the contemporary scene. Although there is full coverage in all subjects, the collection is particularly strong in pictures of flora and fauna, furniture, costumes, interiors, geographic and historic views, and portraits. The pictures are available for free circulation to the public but are not available for classroom use by teachers or students, other than art students.

Established in 1915, the resources of the collection had grown by 1930 to 150,000 items. Under the curatorship of Romana Javitz the file was expanded, specifically classified, indexed, and sourced, and serves as a model for other libraries and collectors.

The Franziska Gay Schacht collection also began in the 1930s, was augmented by gifts and purchases, and was established as a memorial in 1963. Consisting of 1,500 prints by distinguished American photographers, this is a noncirculating part of the Picture Collection and must be used in the room. The Farm Security Administration Photographic Project collection, numbering 300,000 pieces, and covering most of the states in the Union, was presented in the early 1940s. These collections are described further in the section on photography earlier in this chapter.

Special Indexes and Files

The Picture Collection does not have a regular catalog of its holdings; the card indexes and files described below are of importance for an understanding of the collections. The Subject Index, Alewyn Flora and Fauna Index, and Personality Index are primarily for staff use.

Source Catalog

Each book, periodical, or group of pictures which comes into the Picture Collection is given an identifying number or symbol (books and groups of separate pictures are given numbers; periodicals are given letter symbols). A full bibliographic record of the source is placed on a catalog card and filed in numerical or alphabetical sequence (16 card drawers). A borrower wishing to know the source of a picture may then obtain full information from the Source Catalog by referring to the number or symbol on the mount.

Subject Index

The card index of subject headings used by the Picture Collection contains extensive cross-references to alternative headings which might suggest themselves for particular subjects (30 card drawers).

Alewyn Flora and Fauna Index

An alphabetical index by common name of plants and animals with cross-references from other common ways of referring to them, for example "Flowers and Plants, Heartsease see Flowers and Plants, Pansy"; "Animals, Mountain Lion see Animals, Puma." Latin names, while indicated on the cards, are not used as filing headings (4 card drawers).

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Geographical Names Index

An index of the folder location of small geographic or ethnographic units which do not have individual folders, this file places such entities as the African Masai under the references "Kenyan Life" and "Tanzanian Life" (4 card drawers).

Personality Index

This index gives the filing name under which a personality usually known by a nickname or pseudonym may be found in the Picture Collection (17 card drawers). Examples are "Mark Twain see Clemens, Samuel L."; "Minnesota Fats, Billiards Champion see Wanderone, Rudolf."