Massachusetts’ high COVID vaccination rate means that gatherings and crowds will once again be a common occurrence. For the best in vintage crowd photography, be it parades, demonstrations, protests and rallies, The Brearley Collection is the place to browse.
Recently, some additional images were added to the already voluminous collection of photographs and negatives from Boston press photographers from the 1920s to the 1970s. The collection’s namesake, Dennis Brearley worked among the photojournalists and he amassed a huge amount of material. He and his wife ran a gallery at Faneuil Hall from 1978 to 2012, selling prints of Boston’s History.
by Anne Berard, Reference & Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library, member Digital Commonwealth Education & Outreach Committee
When I first saw the name of the recently added collection, Knapp Family Financial Records from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, I must admit I was expecting something else altogether. I thought I might find wills, codicils, estate documents, tax filings and the like. Imagine my surprise and delight to find instead an intimate and workaday glimpse into the life of a middle class family from JP during the first half of the 20th century.
While I’ve never met the Knapps of 15 Holbrook St., by perusing their receipts for life insurance premiums, their notices from the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston, billing statements from the Centre Street Public Market, and their deposit books from the Eliot Savings Bank of Roxbury, I somehow slid into their lives. George, Emma, Robert, Daisy are there in the details. Robert’s Navy Plaid Suit, cleaned at Lewandos, with starched vest. A Degree of Pocahontas Resolutions of Respect from the Baboosic Council # 7 of Roxbury issued in Daisy’s memory.
Aside from the sartorial and emotional elements in these records, there is much economic detail here proving that the inflation rate has always a part of consumers’ lives. For example, in 1910 for the grand sum of $116.05, you could buy two tables, five chairs, a bureau, a bed, and a rocker from Jordan Marsh Company. Today, those same items would cost thousands of dollars.
I encourage other history geeks like me to spend some time with the Knapps, looking through these records, living vicariously on Holbrook St. for a little while. So much is different in 2021 from 1921. Still, the necessities: food, shelter, clothing, utilities and plaid suits remain the same.
Of special and timely interest in November’s New Collections are photographs from an exhibit, A Seat at the Table, held in 2019 at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. This colorful and compelling exhibit was inspired by the pioneering firebrand Shirley Chisholm’s call for greater involvement of women, people of color and other activists in policy decision making. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Indeed, Shirley’s chair is a bright yellow folding chair. Conceptual artists created chairs to represent other voices, some from current times such as Congresswomen Ayanna Presley and Deb Haaland, and actress Yara Shahidi. Others depict heroes of the past like abolitionist Lucy Stone, and labor organizer Cesar Chavez. See all 24 images here.
Ellen F. O’Connor was an art teacher in the Boston Public Schools system, teaching at the Prince School and later West Roxbury High School. In addition to her work as an educator, she was a passionate participant in the cultural life of Boston. She was a gifted singer, a soloist at the Mission Church and a member of the Handel and Haydn Society, and also gave an annual lecture on Irish art at the Boston Public Library. An avid world traveler throughout her life, she took advantage of a progressive Boston Public Schools policy to take two sabbatical years to travel and to study and to learn about other cultures. Her personal enrichment served to inspire her many students during the course of her long career.
This collection includes small, medium, and large format negatives taken by Boston press photographers dating from the 1920s through the early 1970s. It was amassed by photojournalist Dennis Brearley during the course of his career as a working photographer. From 1978 to 2012, Mr. Brearley and his wife Susan ran a photo gallery in Faneuil Hall selling prints from his photographs and the work of other press photographers in his collection. In 2013, Hunt Auctions began the process of selling the collection in lots. The Ten Pounds Collection, as it is affectionately dubbed, was purchased at auction by John Booras, a local Boston collector and amateur historian. The nickname of the collection is derived from the lot description, which consisted of the remainders of the original collection that were not deemed marketable; the lot was described and sold by weight rather than content.
The Tichnor Brothers Collection contains approximately 25,000 office proofs of postcards of the United States published by the Boston firm Tichnor Brothers Inc. These are color postcards with a linen texture dated ca. 1930-1945. The concentration is on American vacation places.
Alfred W. Cutting (1860-1935), although born and educated in Boston, had a deep connection to Wayland. Five generations of Cuttings had lived in Wayland since the arrival of his great-great-great-grandfather in 1713. His father, Charles Cutting, owned considerable property along Old Sudbury Road and the family was often there despite the fact that both Alfred and his father worked in Boston (Charles as a stationer and Alfred as a bank teller). Alfred got to know many people in his neighborhood of Old Sudbury Road and Glezen Lane and frequented the home of his childhood idol, Lydia Maria Child — the noted abolitionist and author — and her husband David Lee Child. Later he and his sister, Marcia, lived in her former home.
Cutting’s contributions to Wayland are lasting. He served as Wayland’s unofficial historian in the early 20th century, giving speeches and writing pamphlets on its past. For many years he served as a trustee of the Wayland Public Library and was active in the First Parish Church. In 1905, he founded the Society of Wayland Arts and Crafts.
The holiday season was celebrated at Digital Commonwealth by adding some interesting collections. Our biggest contributors, Boston Public Library and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, of course, did their bit. But let’s highlight our other two contributors.
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society performed a good deed for all Bostonians by sponsoring the digitization of the Doyle’s Café memorabilia. When that 137-year-old institution closed in October 2019, many of the pub’s decorations and ephemera were auctioned off. JPHS made sure a record was made before they all disappeared into private collections. Thank you!
The Lawrence Public Library has been a frequent and welcome contributor. This month’s collection, the Phyllis Tyler Paper Doll Collection, is another set of seldom seen ephemera. If the fashions didn’t give away the fact that this set is from the 1940’s, the celebrity dolls – Betty Grable and Ava Gardner – would. Perhaps most striking is the WAFS (Women’s Air Force) pilot dolls in both military and mufti (left and right respectively). Yes, women did their bit in World War II, too.
My very first post on the Digital Commonwealth blog was an interview with Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library. She was knowledgeable, encouraging and funny. She was a perfect first interview. I’ve interviewed other members since and they have been universally enthusiastic about their collections and digitizing through DC.
It’s been an honor to be editor of this blog for three years and it is a joy to know I’m passing the editorship on to someone who loves the collections and finds our members just as fascinating as I did. (Good luck, Anne!)
You were all inspirational to me. I hope I did you some justice in these postings.
Let us give thanks for November’s new collections. And additions to existing collections. But I was most taken with two of our new collections: Boston Children’s Museum Lantern Slides and the Washington Historical Commission Collection.
Many of the lantern slides are hand-colored, giving unnaturally rosy cheeks to all captured in the image. I never knew the Children’s Museum started in Jamaica Plain, but you can see in the image at left that it was still there in 1940. Not that the museum was parochial – you’ll see Images of international exhibits on Egypt, China and Scandinavia for a few.
The Washington Historical Commission Collection is a wonderful collection of images, texts and ephemera. The Reward of Merit (Below right) is something I’ve never seen. Apparently, they were handed out by teachers to students. Who wouldn’t settle down to their studies if they were given certificates like this?
The Boston Public Library went to town in October, adding three new collections and adding new items to three existing collections, for over 1,000 items total. But Digital Commonwealth did not neglect its smaller members. Boston Latin School, Sturgis Library, Weymouth Public Libraries and Wilbraham Public Library all added from 1 to 952 items to the Digital Commonwealth universe.
This includes the image on the left. We know these five young men and two coaches were champions in 1917, but of what? No matter how much I enlarge the photo, I can’t make out the inscription. The athletes are wearing heavy wool sweaters with their shorts plus pretty gnarly socks. The only hint is the surprisingly-impressive-for-a-high-school trophy. The Roman (Greek?) god appears to be holding what looks to me like a crew oar crowned with a laurel wreath. I vote for crew champions. What do you think?