Thursday, March 20, 2014
From tintype album of Elizabeth (Almy) Cobb Hall, ca. 1900-1905. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryFrom tintype album of Elizabeth (Almy) Cobb Hall, ca. 1900-1905. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Over the winter the Schlesinger Library began a survey of our photograph holdings. We have an ongoing effort to catalog and digitize photographs on a regular basis and thus far have made approximately 75,000 photographs from both the Schlesinger Library and Radcliffe College Archives collections available online.

While we would love to digitize all of our photographs, we have at least another 100,000 in collections yet to be digitized and we recognize the need to prioritize the collections. We brought together a team of staff members who had expressed interest in working with visual materials. Along with a Simmons Library school student, we embarked on the project. We decided to begin by looking at a subset of our holdings, approximately 25,000 photographs from over 250 collections. Photographs typically come into the library as parts of larger personal or family papers, or are included with the records of an organization. As a group, we have met twice a month to look at collections together and to brainstorm new ways of approaching the way we think about these materials. We developed a database and imported general data that we had collected in past surveys, including the collection names and number of photographs. Working together we devised a series of questions that would help us to learn more about each collection and that would assist us in establishing priorities when looking at the collections comprehensively. Among the treasures we have uncovered thus far are an album of miniature tintypes, cyanotypes, and cabinet cards depicting multiple or clone images of the same person. These examples are all from the Almy Family Papers. The Schlesinger has an earlier collection of Almy family photographs that can be found in VIA, Harvard’s online image catalog.

Tintype album of Elizabeth (Almy) Cobb Hall as young girl, with portraits of the Almy family and friends, 3 x 4 inch album, ca. 1900-1905. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryTintype album of Elizabeth (Almy) Cobb Hall as young girl, with portraits of the Almy family and friends, 3 x 4 inch album, ca. 1900-1905. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

The images in the later collection, addenda to the earlier papers, are in addition to what has already been cataloged and digitized. The Almy family photographs in VIA largely depict images of World War I relief work. What the photo team hopes to determine is if it is necessary to catalog and digitize the images from the later collection to augment what is already there for researchers, or if those photographs already completed are sufficient and another collection should be prioritized for cataloging in its place. All of this takes some time to review, discuss, and make recommendations, but in the end, we hope to have developed a process that can be used to make decisions about the collections in aggregate, and that can be utilized by the larger staff, not just the few members of our team. Even if the Almy family were depicted thoroughly enough in our online database, it is hard to ignore an album of miniature tintypes, both for its precious quality and its historical significance.

This album belonged to Elizabeth (Almy) Cobb Hall as a young girl. The album itself is only 3 x 4 inches with 21 tintype portraits and 6 gelatin silver (black and white) print portraits of the Almy family and friends.

An image we found particularly interesting from the Almy family addenda is a multiple view, a clone or mirror cabinet card portrait of an unidentified man. Not only do we see the gentleman’s face and profile, which are common portrait angles, we see the back of his head, which is rare.

Multiple view portrait of an unidentified man, 4.25 x 6.5 inches, 1896. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryMultiple view portrait of an unidentified man, 4.25 x 6.5 inches, 1896. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Another collection we have reviewed is the Philinda Parsons (Rand) Anglemyer Papers, 1901–1909. The bulk of this collection documents Philinda Parsons (Rand) Anglemyer’s time teaching English in the Philippines. Unlike the Almy papers, this collection does not have any images digitized. One of the discoveries of this collection is a loose photograph album page with two portraits of Margaret Silay. In the first photograph she is holding a bird in her hand, and in the second she is holding the bird up to her mouth.

Portraits of Margaret Silay with a bird on a loose photograph album page, ca. 1901-1909. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPortraits of Margaret Silay with a bird on a loose photograph album page, ca. 1901-1909. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

As we review the collections, we have been adjusting the database to better prioritize collections for cataloging and digitization. We have already improved access to these images, and it will be great to see researchers utilize some of our “lost” collections. We are excited to find more hidden gems!