Greetings from Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Greetings from Lebanon, Penna. from BPL Tichnor Brothers Collection

LebTown, an independent media organization in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has discovered Digital Commonwealth – big time!  In a posting entitled, Wish You Were Here: Lebanon County postcards of decades past, LebTown uses over 20 postcards from the Boston Public Library’s Tichnor Brothers Collection.  This collection includes approximately 25,000 office proof postcards from across the United States.  LebTown, naturally, has extracted many postcards of interest to residents of Lebanon County.  They advise any viewers to go to “Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth” for postcards for the rest of Pennsylvania and “other states”.

If you need a little inspiration for planning your vacation this summer, Tichnor Brothers concentrated on views of vacation spots.  Take a look at California, the Grand Canyon, or Vacationland itself, Maine.



Bagpipe Performance 1988
Bagpipe Performance 1988 from Gebbie Archives Image Collection


In February, the Boston Public Library was in an artistic frame of mind, adding to the American Artists collection as well as adding two new collections: Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) Prints and Drawings and Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) Prints and Drawings.

If you’re not in an artistic mood, the Harvard Forest Archives has added hundreds of maps.  Holyoke Community College has uploaded the Frank N. Fowler Postcard Collection.  The largest addition this month was the harvest of 1,230 items from Wheaton College’s Marion B. Gebbie Archives Image Collection, including the bagpipers at left.

Parade season is right around the corner.  Time to get your kilts from the dry cleaners.


Boston Public Library
American Artists – 23 items added to existing collection
Frank W. Benson (1862-1951). Prints and Drawings – 677 items
Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). Prints and Drawings – 529 items

Harvard Forest Archives
The Harvard Forest Map Collection – 648 items

Holyoke Community College
Frank N. Fowler Postcard Collection – 24 items

Wheaton College
Marion B. Gebbie Archives Image Collection – 1,230 items harvested

Harper's for April
Harper’s for April
The modern poster
The modern poster
Arabella and Araminta stories
Arabella and Araminta stories
Harper's weekly, Christmas
Harper’s weekly, Christmas













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.


Frank Lewis with baleen bundles
Frank Lewis with baleen bundles from New Bedford Free Public Library


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.






Bass River Windmill
Bass River Windmill from Cape Cod Community College


Boston Public Library
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection
869 items added to existing collection

Cape Cod Community College
Barnstable Patriot Photograph Collection, 1931-1978 – 624 items

Coast Guard Heritage Museum
Coast Guard Heritage Museum General Collection – 20 items
Dalton Collection – 3 items

Holyoke Public Library
Milan P. Warner Photograph Collection – 339 items added to existing collection

New Bedford Free Public Library
Photograph Collection – 84 items added to existing collection
Rotogravure Collection – 433 items added to existing collection
Earle D. Wilson Collection – 337 items
Joseph G. Tirrell Photograph Collection – 99 items
Gilbert D. Kingman Photograph Collection – 54 items
Oliveira Photograph Collection – 37 items

Truro Historical Society
Truro Massachusetts U.S. Coast Guard and Life Saving Service Collection – 4 items added to existing collection

Leslie Jones with camera in tarp at Fenway
Leslie Jones with Graflex in tarp at Fenway Leslie Jones Collection, BPL

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.

Dorothy Tarbox scrapbox
Scrapbook of Dorothy Tarbox, RN, World War I from MGH Archives and Special Collections and the MGH School of Nursing Collection

Annisquam Historical Society
Annisquam Historical Society’s Collection of Historical Documents – 2 items added to an existing collection

Boston Public Library
Early, Rare, and Exceptional Items from Special Collections, Rare Books – 1 item added to an existing collection
Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) – 9 items added to an existing collection
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection – 762 items added to an existing collection
Press Photography from the Brearley Collection – 474 items added to an existing collection
Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) – 2,127 items added to an existing collection

Lincoln Public Library
Isabelle Peirce Collection, 1766-1994, bulk 1840-1920 – 170 items

Massachusetts Archives
Massachusetts Metropolitan Park Commission, Founders and Commissioners, Photographic Portraits, ca. 1892 to ca. 1907 – 15 items

Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital World War I Collection – 7 items added to an existing collection

SAILS Library Network
47 new items harvested

University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
39 new collections – 21, 161 new items harvested

Minnie Avery and bicycle on road between Lenox Dale and New Lenox
Minnie Avery & bicycle on road between Lenox Dale and New Lenox from Lenox Library Association Local History Photograph Collection

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

End the debt! Decolonize! Liberate Puerto Rico! Scroll
End the debt! Decolonize! Liberate Puerto Rico! Scroll from AgitArte’s Collaborations

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!

Beach scene (10)
Beach scene (10) from BPL’s Edmund Blampied (1886-1966). Prints and Drawings

Collaborations – 1 item

Boston Public Library
Edmund Blampied (1886-1966). Prints and Drawings – 394 items
Press Photography from the Brearley Collection – 1,222 items added to an existing collection

Chicopee Public Library
2 new collections, 710 new items harvested

The Medford Historical Society & Museum
The Medford Historical Society Civil War Photograph Collection – 851 items added to an existing collection


Sandwich High School, class of 1940
Sandwich High School, class of 1940 from the Sandwich Town Archives

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.

Plan of Monson made by Aaron Bliss, dated 1831
Plan of Monson made by Aaron Bliss, dated 1831from the Massachusetts Archives

Boston Public Library
American Masters 1850-1960 – 4 items

Digital Transgender Archive
9 collections – 2391 items re-harvested

Massachusetts Archives
Town plans, 1830 – 324 items

Northfield Mount Hermon
The Hermonite (1888-1969) – 38 items

Sandwich Town Archives
Sandwich Town Archives Historical Photograph Collection – 33 items

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library
6 collections – 501 items

University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives
2 collections – 9,135 items re-harvested


Written by Anne Berard, Reference& Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library

Trade card for Hunt's Remedy, the great kidney & liver medicine
Hunt’s Remedy, the great kidney & liver medicine, William E. Clarke, proprietor, Providence, Rhode Island, undated from Historic New England’s EP001: Ephemera collection
Malt Bitters - the purest and best medicine in the world for nourishing and strengthening and for overcoming dyspepsia, debility and wasting diseases. The house that Jack built
Malt Bitters – the purest and best medicine in the world for nourishing and strengthening and for overcoming dyspepsia, debility and wasting diseases. The house that Jack built. from Boston Public Library’s 19th Century American Trade Card
Ayer's Sarsaparilla, Dr. J.C. Ayer & Company, Lowell, Mass.
Trade card for Ayer’s Sarsaparilla, Dr. J.C. Ayer & Company, Lowell, Mass. from Historic New England’s EP001: Ephemera collection

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.