Written by Patricia Feeley, Interlibrary Loan Librarian, Boston Public Library

Photo case for Portrait of a man
Photo cover

Historic Newton’s Early Photograph Collection has something for everyone who loves photographs: daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, hand painted miniature portraits and cartes de visite.  You can see the fashionable cases of the day as well.  Many of Newton’s historically prominent families are included.  The poses struck range from the straightforward, all business portrait of Charles Redding, an African-American sailor who served on the famous USS Kearsage during the Civil War, to the dandified Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson in his fur-trimmed coat – and with a name that reads like the genealogical profile of a Boston Brahmin.

Sara Leavitt Goldberg, Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts and Photographs for Historic Newton (HN), took up her position about seven and a half years ago.  Always interested in photographs, she did a concentration in archives at Simmons College.  She then interned and consulted at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown.  Sara’s predecessor at HN, Susan Abele, began the photo project 10 years ago.  With assistance from Ron Polito, co-author of Massachusetts photographers, 1839-1900, she created a comprehensive inventory of the photograph collection that Sara has found invaluable.

Charles Redding
Charles Redding

Inventory and collection in hand, Sara wanted to make it more broadly accessible while protecting her materials.  HN is a small, public/private collaborative and did not have the budget to digitize on its own.  Sara

went looking for a few good partners.

Digital Commonwealth (DC) had been on Sara’s radar since Simmons.  Sara knew she wanted to talk to DC.  She also knew about Simmons College’s internship program.  Here were two sources of free, professional help for her project.  Sara recommends both to small cultural institutions with limited budgets and big digitization dreams.

The photo inventory done by previous staff was an essential part of the process.  Kelsey Sawyer, the Simmons intern, handled all of the HN metadata based on the data in the inventory.  Sara is convinced the more prepared your institution is before you send your collection to digitization, the easier – and faster – it will go.  She characterizes her experience as “remarkably flawless.”

 Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson
Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson

Sara contacted DC in January, DC visited in February, she dropped off the collection in April, the imaging was done in June and uploaded in August.  She got her collection back in September.  It “truly could not have been easier.”

Sara sent HN staff a link to the collection and everyone was impressed.  She is eager to show the images off to her trustees and museum council.

Her advice to anyone still on the fence about digitization: Take the time to get your descriptions done and done right.  She gives full credit to HN staff for their work on the inventory and metadata.  Next, find yourself a few good partners.  She can recommend two.

In summary, Sara says it was “well worth the price of membership” to have DC digitize her collection.  HN owns some collections in partnership with the city, so Sara has some negotiating to do before she can send more collections.  But send more she will.

 from the Public Works Department Photographs collection
105 State Street, Boston from the Public Works Department Photographs collection

Strike up the band, fire the confetti cannon and release the balloons!  Digital Commonwealth is celebrating the half million item mark.  Thanks, in part, to the large and small collections below, Digital Commonwealth by the end of August was able to offer access to 529, 444 items.

On August 23, you could commemorate the 90th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution by perusing the 285 additional items added to the Boston Public Library’s Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.

Or you could remember your summer vacation trips around Massachusetts by comparing your GPS maps to the more than 400 1794 town plans in the Massachusetts Archives’ Town Plan Collection.  Wait, school is starting and your brain is working and you know Massachusetts only has 351 cities and towns.  What gives?  In 1794, Massachusetts still had a province in what is now Maine, so be careful when you look for Falmouth.  There are two of them.

Or you could play the “then and now” game with the City of Boston Archives Public Works Department Photographs Collection, one of twenty and including over 1,000 photos by itself.  My how you’ve changed, 105 State Street.

So whether you are partial to the early daguerreotypes included in Historic Newton’s collection or the Town of Rockport’s maps, there’s something for everyone in the 85 collections added in August or the over half million total items on Digital Commonwealth.  Enjoy!

Boston Public Library

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) – 3 items added to existing collection

Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) – 285 items added to existing collection

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Prints, Drawings, and Paintings – 577 items

Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection
Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection


Cape Cod Community College

Cape Cod Association Collection, 1851-1969 – 80 items


City of Boston Archives

20 collections – 3,750 records harvested


Historic Newton

Historic Newton Early Photograph Collection – 279 items



Plan of Greenwich from the  Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection
Plan of Greenwich from the Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection

Massachusetts Archives

Town plans, 1794 – 403 items


Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

Laws, Regulations and Commerce Collection – 3 items

NCCHP Museum Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Business Correspondence Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Employee Collection – 7 items

Trade Catalog Collection – 4 items


Town of Rockport

Rockport Town Clerk, Street, Roads and Maps – 228 items


University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

53 collections – 26,759 records re-harvested