American companies took notice when French art posters became extremely popular in the 1880’s. A new lithography process had made economical printing of large editions of posters possible. American companies commissioned prominent illustrators like Edward Penfield, Will Bradley, Ethel Reed and Maxfield Parrish to create posters. There is no denying the purpose of the posters was to advertise performances, exhibits, magazines, books and other products to a growing middle class. If it also brought art to everyday life, so much the better. And so the American Art Poster entered its golden age, 1890-1920.
Edward Penfield’s poster advertising the April 1893 Harper’s magazine (above, far left) is generally credited as starting an American poster revolution. Unlike previous American posters, this one advertised intellectual – not commercial – product. It also was much more restrained and simpler than the French posters of the time. Penfield included his monogram on this poster. Later, Penfield and the other illustrators would sign their full names and printers would add their company names. Penfield’s posters also set the precedent of doubling as magazine (or book) covers.
Will Bradley’s beautiful Art Nouveau peacock (above, center left) is a change from his frequent depictions of women in windblown gowns. However, it demonstrates the color intensity and textural effects possible with the new lithographic process. This image also demonstrates the influence of Japanese block printing on the Boston-born Bradley.
The always fascinating Ethel Reed was born in Newburyport, studied art in Boston and became a leading poster artist before leaving for London. While still in Boston, she did illustrations for the local newspapers and a guide to Boston as well as book covers, like the Arabella and Araminta stories. (above, center right)
Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak painting would go on to become the most popular art print of the 20th century. In contrast to the saturated colors of his paintings, Parrish started out with black and white commercial art. Some of those ads and Harper’s Weekly covers are here. The charmingly domestic Harper’s Weekly Christmas cover (above, far right) includes a color background for its black and white image.
With over 500 images, the Boston Public Library’s American Art Posters 1890-1920 is a collection you can visit and revisit, discovering new favorites each time.
January was a busy month for Digital Commonwealth, in no small part due to the New Bedford Public Library adding 4 new collections and substantially increasing two existing collections. All six include photographs that depict New Bedford’s varied history. The photo of Frank Lewis with baleen bundles (left) from the Earl D. Wilson Collection Photographs speaks to New Bedford’s whaling history.
Another substantial collection is the Barnstable Patriot Photograph Collection from Cape Cod Community College. This collection spans nearly 50 years of Barnstable and nearby Cape towns. The charming windmill (below) is one of many Cape views you can find in this collection.
The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA) headlined its A GOOD AGE column on January 21, 2019, “Discovering a 20th Century Boston ‘camera man’“. The ‘camera man’ is Leslie Ronald Jones of Digital Commonwealth’s extremely popular Leslie Jones Collection from the Boston Public Library. The Patriot Ledger highlights photos of interest to their readership, like shipbuilding in Quincy. But even they could not resist one of Jones’ more humorous Fenway Park photos – Jones himself with camera emerging from a tarp rolled up on the field. There really wasn’t anyplace he wouldn’t go for a good photo!
Digital Commonwealth added a lot of new items to existing collections in December, but only Lincoln Public Library and the Massachusetts Archives added wholly new collections. The Archives added a small collection of photographs of founders and commissioners of the Metropolitan Park Commission. Lincoln uploaded the Isabelle Peirce Collection, which consists mainly of 19th century letters to Isabelle Peirce as well as some Peirce family documents.
Wrapping up the centennial of the end of World War I, Massachusetts General Hospital added scrapbooks to its World War I collection, one of which included the news clipping of the headline announcing the end of the war. (Below.) More than 500 MGH employees wound up serving in Europe. These scrapbooks document their wartime experiences.
I have no idea who Minnie Avery is or why she rode her bicycle out to the road between Lenox Dale and New Lenox at the turn of the 2oth century. It is enough for me that someone captured it on film. My first question is, “Why is Minnie Avery standing in what looks like a large saucepan on the side of a dirt road surrounded by trees?” There are even logs under the “pot” that could be lit for a cooking fire. More questions naturally follow: Is the photographer responsible for this Minnie stew? Did Minnie know what was in store for her when she put on her straw boater and summer finery to go riding in the Berkshires? Why is no one named Minnie anymore?
Thanks to Digital Commonwealth’s wonderful zoom utility, I can click on the magnifying glass and get a closer look without losing any resolution. Now it’s a whole new – and, alas, less interesting – story. Minnie is standing on the far side of the vat, not in it. She is holding a cup or tin of some sort and there is a pipe – not a handle – on the right. Apparently, this is a drinking station, possibly from a local spring. Minnie has biked out to a scenic spot and stopped for refreshment. The box on her handlebar may be a picnic lunch or her own box camera. Perhaps, she will be the photographer of her companion taking the next drink. All we know for sure is she has nothing to worry about from local cannibals.
If you have a favorite photo as deserving of A Closer Look as Minnie Avery and her bicycle, please let us know. Send your Closer Look or a link to your photo to email@example.com.
This month we welcome AgitArte, an organization of working class artists and cultural organizers, who added the scroll, one of their community art projects, at left. Almost unbelievably, the Medford Historical Society & Museum has added several hundred more Civil War photos and the Chicopee Public Library has allowed the harvest of two more collections.
As last month, I want to highlight one of Digital Commonwealth’s mainstays, the Boston Public Library. The Press Photography from the Brearley Collection has grown exponentially. The 1,222 items added this month nearly double the size of the collection. The BPL also added a new collection of 394 items, the Edmund Blampied (1886-1966) Prints and Drawings collection, which includes the exquisite crayon drawing, Beach Scene (10) below.
Agitating for the community or a virtual beach visit may warm you up this December. Happy holidays to all!
Sometimes when I write these blog entries, I mention in passing that, ho-hum, the Boston Public Library or UMass/Amherst have added – again – to their extensive holdings. I like to shine the spotlight on the little guy, like Northfield Mount Hermon or the Sandwich Town Archives.
Then I see this month’s addition by UMass/Amherst of two – count ‘em, two – collections totaling 9,135 items. Wow. Words fail me.
In the meantime, even if you didn’t attend Sandwich High School, you should enjoy a look at the class photos from the 1940s-1970s. (See left.) It is interesting to note the growing population and, always, the change in hairstyles and fashion. If you follow this blog, you know that I love a good map and the Massachusetts Archives has added more town plans. The plan of Monson by Aaron Bliss is jarringly colorful. (See below.) Once you zoom in, it looks like a town plan. In the thumbnail, I keep thinking abstract expressionism. Very Picasso.
Written by Anne Berard, Reference& Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library
While the earliest advertising cards first circulated in London, Lyon and Paris in the late 17th century, advances in color lithography and printing in the 19th century made them easier to produce and more ubiquitous. Everything from soap, thread, perfume, hats, shoes, coffee, candy and more were marketed in these stylized cards. Digital Commonwealth has more than 3700 unique images in its collection. Some of the most entertaining and possibly alarming, cards were for tonics and health remedies that might belong in the annals of medical quackery. Blood-purifying agents were all the rage.
Hunt’s Remedy (above, left) claimed that it was“never known to fail” and cured dropsy (edema), liver, bladder, kidney and urinary problems. It was produced by William E. Clarke of Providence, Rhode Island. The graphics show a shirtless man fighting off the Grim Reaper.
Boasting of health and sunny hours, an Ayers Sarsaparilla (above, center) card from 1902 featured a lovely woman in Victorian dress holding a tot on her shoulder. Dr. J.C. Ayers operated in Lowell, MA. Sarsaparilla root is still used today in some herbal medicines to treat psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Touting itself as the “purest and best medicine in the world” for overcoming dyspepsia, debility, and wasting diseases was Malt Bitters of Boston, MA. (above, right) Their detailed card also promised “stimulation without intoxication.” Playing off the theme of the House that Jack Built, the card has charming artwork, attractive lettering and tells a complete story.
In time, radio ads were a more modern means to reach a larger audience and trade cards fell out of fashion. Larger companies still produced catalogs and smaller enterprises converted to smaller business cards and matchbooks.
To see the complete collection of 19th Century American Trade Cards, begin here.
This month’s total items added is 6,077. That includes a couple of substantial collections: The Boston Public Library’s Press Photography from the Brearley Collection at 1,138 items and the Historical Society of Old Newbury’s Snow Historical Photograph Collection at 1,279 items.
Dennis Brearley collected the works of Boston photojournalists from the 1920s-1970s. A representative photo is the Cocoanut Grove entrance photo. (Left) What’s been added from the Snow Historical Photograph Collection is only a fraction of what the Historical Society holds. The Moulton Castle photo (Below right) is one to whet our appetite for more.
Digital Commonwealth also has re-harvested over 1,700 items from the City of Boston Archives, but sometimes the smaller collections contain gems, too. The Thayer Memorial Library added a history of Lancaster and the Milford Town Library added 200 photos from the Paul E. Curran Historical Collection, including one of the largest piece of granite ever quarried in Milford. (Below center)) That’s a big rock.
by Mary Bell, Assistant Director
Wilbraham Public Library
This unassuming photograph of a couple in a horse-drawn carriage and two men standing outside is the best proof I have of Wilbraham’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Handwriting on the photograph describes this scene as part of a pageant during Wilbraham’s 150th anniversary in 1913, and identifies the couple in the carriage as Elsie Farr and C.E. Edson. The Springfield Union, Friday evening edition of June 20, 1913, describes the celebration in the language of the day as follows: “The children sang ‘The Prison Cell’ and as they were closing, the audience was surprised to see coming down the hill, pursued by men, old-time slaves, who, just as they were about to be seized by their masters, were rescued by Glendale people and borne away to safety. This was intended to typify just such scenes as occurred in the North 60 years ago when Glendale was a famous underground railroad station.” Elsie and C.E. were playing Lucia and John Calkins, abolitionists who – rumor has it – were early conductors on the railroad.
The photograph was taken on June 20, 1913, the third day of the Sesquicentennial celebration of Wilbraham’s incorporation. The bulk of the day’s events was the unveiling of a boulder at Glendale Cemetery honoring the town’s veterans, especially American Civil War veterans who were present at the ceremony. The photograph is fascinating as a celebratory moment in time – and what would have been considered an acceptable pageant a century ago – in addition to a hint of the past.
In the Civil War period, the Glendale section of Wilbraham would have included what are now two towns, Wilbraham and Hampden. The people of Glendale established a Methodist church and an abolitionist movement, which included a few neighborhood families – notably the Ames and Calkins families – who are said by local historians to have been conductors on the Underground Railroad. When this photograph was taken sixty years after the fact, several people were still around who could have contradicted the story of John and Lucia Calkins as told in the pageant but did not. While the evidence is circumstantial at best and may not convince the skeptic, this photograph reveals an early story in Wilbraham history about involvement in the Underground Railroad.