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Resources / New England Photo Collections

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This listing originally appeared in the article "Photographic History Resources Around New England" by Richard Morange, The Journal, issue 171, 2013. An enlarged and updated list of NE photo collections is presented below. To provide additional information, or have a collection considered for listing contact Whitey Morange.


Viewing historically significant photographs has never been easier. Many of the great collections around New England have been or are being digitized, making them available on museum, library, and historical society websites across the region. It is important to remember, however, that the original photographs may also be available for public viewing and scholarly research. This face-to-face encounter can provide an experience that is simply not possible on a computer screen. Ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, for example, can vary in appearance depending on the lighting in which they are viewed. Sometimes the context in which an image is seen can make all the difference; when an artist has produced a body of work on a particular subject, each image gains meaning from those around it, an effect somewhat lost when the same images are seen sequentially on a computer screen.

On the other hand, the depth and breadth of a collection held by an institution can mean that only a small part of that collection will be available for in-person viewing. In these cases, the digitized images show their real worth. We can now view photographs online that have had little public display, or which reside in distant places, thanks to diligent archivists and the webmasters who make it all available to us.

We offer the following descriptions, provided by each institution, as a starting point in your search for significant and interesting photographic collections around New England. We hope to expand this list as new information is sent to us.

New England Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art

On the campus of Phillips Andover Academy, Andover MA
(978) 749-4018

The only major museum of art located on the campus of a secondary school, the Addison boasts a large collection of photographs from the civil war work of Timothy Sullivan to portfolios of images by modern Americans. There is a study room available for close inspection of items from the collection. Contact the museum for details.

American Antiquarian Society

185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609-1634

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is a principal research center for the study of the nation’s history and culture and holds one of the world’s foremost collections of books, newspapers, and broadsides printed in early America. It also holds important holdings of pre1900 American photography, including examples of American daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cartes de visite, and more than 50,000 American stereo photographs. Many of these collections are described and some are available digitally on our website. The majority of the early collection is focused on portraiture and includes images of famous American politicians, authors, actors, and activists. Civil War-era collections include prints by Mathew Brady and portraits made locally in Worcester, Massachusetts. Views of New England towns and cities can be found in the later portion of the collection, especially in the archives of glass negatives by Thomas Wohlbruck and Harriet M. Forbes, many of which have been digitized for access. The collection also includes numerous family albums and collected photographs of schools, travel, and friendships. In addition, the American Antiquarian Society holds one of the nation’s most significant collections of American books illustrated with photographs. These books, as well as the individual photo albums, can be accessed through our main library catalog.

At AAS, photography is considered in the context of American printing, which is the main focus of our collecting. The material is housed in the graphic arts department and is considered part of the organization’s visual materials collection. The society provides full access to all material through our reading room, which is available to any type of reader, including students, collectors, scholars, or genealogists. We are open to the public Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 5:00 and Wednesday evenings until 8:00 p.m. The collection is overseen by the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, Lauren B. Hewes.

Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library

125 Arborway, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 384-5209

The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library and Archives Photograph Collections consist of approximately 40,000 images dating from the 1880s to the present day. The collection contains especially strong holdings of historical images of Eastern Asia, 2,500 of which were taken by plant explorer E. H. Wilson, who collected for the Arboretum in China, Japan, Korea, and Formosa (Taiwan) from 1907–1919. We have Wilson’s original glass plate negatives for these photographs and have been fortunate to have them digitized and made available to the public. Our holdings also include more than 1500 historical views of New England landscapes as well as another collection of photographs by E.H. Wilson of notable trees of New England.

The Boston Athenaeum

10˝ Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108
(617) 227-0270

The Boston Athenaeum’s photographic collections provide a comprehensive overview of the development of photography in the nineteenth century, specializing in the work of Boston and New England photographers from 1840 to approximately 1890. Its collection also includes the work of such European photographers as Julia Margaret Cameron, Felix Nadar, and Francis Frith and is known nationally for its Civil War and Confederate material. Although the Boston Athenaeum’s photographs are not on permanent display, there are many temporary exhibitions which include photographs. Please visit the Boston Athenaeum’s Digital Collections web page to view scans of its daguerreotype and photographic holdings at http://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org. The Boston Athenaeum is dedicated to making its collections available to all qualified researchers. Appointments must be made in advance. Please contact the Curator of Prints & Photographs or a member of the Athenaeum’s Reference Department for details.

The Bostonian Society

Old State House Museum, 206 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02109
(617) 720-1713

Boston Public Library

Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215
(617) 536-5400

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

225 South Street, Williamstown, MA 01267
(413) 458-2303

Dartmouth College

6025 College Street, Hanover, NH 03755
(603) 646-2560

Griffin Museum of Photography

67 Shore Road, Winchester MA 01890
(781) 729-1158

Harvard University Art Museums

485 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 495-9400

The Harvard Art Museums’ photograph collection represents the history of photography primarily in the United States and Western Europe from the invention of the medium to the present, with special emphasis on artists’ portraits, personal documentary, and contemporary photographic practice. It also holds four substantial research collections of American documentary and professional photography.

Much of the photographic collection of Harvard University resides in the Fogg Museum, currently under reconstruction and scheduled to reopen in 2014, with an expanded study room complex.

Historic New England (formerly SPNEA)

Otis House, 141 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114-2702
(617) 227-3956

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

220 William Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125
(617) 514-1600

Far too extensive to list here, the Kennedy Library’s holdings go well beyond documenting the Kennedy administration. Here you will find everything from the nineteenth- century glass plates of the Josiah Johnson Hawes Collection to works amassed by Ernest Hemingway and an amazing array of newspaper, government agency, and personal images of everything to do with the Kennedy family.

Massachusetts Historical Society

1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215-3695
(617) 536-1608

Museum of Fine Arts

465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
(617) 267-9300

Peabody Essex Museum

161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970-3783
(978) 745-9500

The photography collection at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is extensive, featuring nearly a million photographs that represent nearly every kind of photographic format and process. It includes some of the world’s finest nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographs of Asia, historic and modern American photography, and the maritime world. The collection includes the major archives of Edwin Hale Lincoln, Lala Deen Dayal, and Samuel Chamberlain, the complete Edward S. Curtis’ North American Indian portfolio, and more than 200 rare Civil War photographs. Recent additions have largely focused on contemporary photography. The collection is overseen by PEM’s curator of photography, Phillip Prodger.

Pont Neuf, Paris, 1839, Daguerreotype
Attributed to Vincent Chevalier (1771–1841) Paris, France
Peabody Essex Museum, Gift of John Burley, 1858

Perkins School for the Blind

175 North Beacon Street, Watertown, MA, 02472

It may seem counter-intuitive that Perkins School, which is world famous for its work with the blind, would have a photo archive worth listing here. It does. There is much available on these pages, from images of early and famous students and teachers (Laura Bridgman, Helen Keller) to clippings about the Halifax disaster, to pictures of Ray Charles in concert at the school.

Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives

65 Main Street, 3rd Floor, Watertown, MA 02471-0236
(617) 923-4542

As the premier archive of Armenian photographs in the United States, Project SAVE Archives’ principal mission is to collect, document, preserve, and present the photographic record of all Armenians. Project SAVE strives to increase knowledge of Armenian culture and heritage by encouraging the use of its extensive collection of photographs, together with its many other resources, to the widest possible audience. It aims to contribute back to the community by supporting and collaborating with other historical, cultural, and educational organizations.

The Wadsworth Atheneum

600 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103
(860) 278-2670

Wellesley College – the Davis Museum

106 Central St, Wellesley, MA 02481
(781) 283-2051

A first rate, if small museum, the Davis has extensive photographic holdings. Shows are published at the website and the images are available on line through a search of medium or artist.

Worcester Art Museum

55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609
(508) 799-4406

Worthington Historical Society

6 Williamsburg Road, Worthington, MA 01098
(413) 238-0491

The Worthington Historical Society, in Western Massachusetts, has a large and growing database of scanned images of photographs and documents related to the Town of Worthington. In addition we can scan and make available images of any item in our large collection that have been accessioned but not yet been scanned. Access our artifact and photograph databases at our website.

PHSNE is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation. Copyright © 2006-2017 Photographic Historical Society of New England, Inc.