Skip to content

Search Collections

Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection

PC047 (RS31552)

Description

The Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection is a robust collection of images of sailing vessels that were once familiar sights around Boston and New York. Over the course of Stebbins's career, sailing vessels were largely replaced by other forms of water transportation. Most of the collection consists of Stebbins's images of marine subjects, including sailing vessels (including several entrants in America's Cup races), commercial sailing craft, steamships, ferries, tugs, and fire and police boats. Boatyards and other dockside facilities are also documented. The remainder of the collection documents architectural views, with subjects including Boston buildings, streets, statues, and parks, and views of Concord, Lexington, and other historic sites.

Details

Collection Name
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
Collection Code
PC047
Dates
1880-1922
Date Notes
1880s-1922
Abstract
The Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection consists of approximately 2,500 original negatives and approximately 6,700 original prints. Dating from the early 1880s to circa 1922, the majority of the images depict recreational sailing vessels, including several entrants in America's Cup races. Additional types of vessels include commercial sailing craft, steamships, ferries, tugs, and fire and police boats. Boatyards and other dockside facilities are also documented. Aside from his marine photography, Stebbins had an active practice as an architectural and view photographer, working in Boston and its suburbs as well as resort areas in Maine and New Hampshire. Approximately 125 architectural views are filed with the marine materials. These images depict Boston buildings, streets, statues, and parks, in addition to views of Concord, Lexington, and other historic sites. The majority were exposed between 1900 and 1922. An estimated 1,000 negatives of an architectural or scenic nature do not have corresponding prints. This collection also contains several surveys of the exteriors and interiors of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings in Boston and vicinity, taken from 1910 to 1920.
Physical Description
ca. 2,500 photographic negatives : black-and-white
ca. 6,700 photographic prints : black-and-white
Finding Aid Info
A print finding aid is available in the Library & Archives.
Collection Type
Photographs
Description Level
Collection
Custodial History
After Stebbins's death, his glass plate negatives, prints, and photographic apparatus fell into the possession of Edward U. Gleason, a Boston photographer who for a few years had been associated with Stebbins. Gleason maintained possession of the materials until his death in 1928, at which point they were put up for sale with the intention that most of the plates would be recycled as panes of glass in a greenhouse. Two small collections of the plates were purchased by interested collectors; these collections eventually were acquired by the Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, and the Mariners Museum. The rest of the plates, prints, and photographic apparatus were purchased by Historic New England (then called the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, or SPNEA) and came into the organization's possession on May 24, 1929.
Credit Line
Historic New England purchase, 1929.
GUSN
171304
Reference Code
PC047

Historical/Biographical Note

Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins was born in 1847 in Meadville, Pennsylvania to Rev. Dr. Rufus P. Stebbins and Eliza Livermore Stebbins. He was a commercial photographer in Boston from 1884 until his death in 1922. During that time, his records indicate that he created over 25,000 glass plate negatives, more than half of which were of marine subjects. Stebbins also worked as an architectural photographer, and approximately 125 architectural prints are included with the marine materials. Throughout the course of his career, Stebbins published several books on marine and naval topics, including "The New Navy of the United States" (1912), "The Illustrated Coast Pilot, with Sailing Directions" (1891), and "The Yachtsman's Album" (1896). Mrs. Katharine Stevens, a daughter of the photographer, was living in Vermont in the 1970s and supplied the following biographical material: "Nathaniel L. Stebbins was the son of the Rev. Dr. Rufus P. Stebbins, a prominent Unitarian clergyman, and, for twelve years, president of Meadville Theological School, and of his wife, formerly Eliza Livermore of Cambridge. From boyhood he had a great love of the sea and of ships. As a young man he made a voyage to South America as passenger on a sailing vessel, and this increased his longing to be always in sight of the ocean. It was in about 1882 that he became interested in photography. I was a small child but I remember well his improvised darkroom in our bathroom and the portraits of us all that he experimented with. Very soon he was ready to give his whole time to photography, and since there were few specializing in marine pictures, it was natural that he saw that field as one which offered little competition, as well as an opportunity to be on the sea. He did do other sorts of photography, in the season when the marine work was not active. Much of this was theatrical, some was for railroads, and so on.Father was a member of the Corinthian and Eastern Yacht Clubs in Marblehead and of one in Boston. In order to be in touch with yachtsmen and yachting events, he had for some years a sturdy 40-foot sloop. One year he had a yawl, and another season he chartered a steam yacht. For big races, where he had to maneuver quickly, he would charter a tug.Cameras in those days were large, heavy things, and a box of glass plates in their holders was heavier. He sometimes had a boy to help carry them to the wharf, but I can still see his rather small, spry figure balancing by the rail in the heaving bow of the boat, while he lifted the great camera to get his shot. Of course we held our breaths, for he couldn't swim a stroke.In order to produce the Illustrated Coast Pilot father passed the examinations for a licensed coast pilot from Machias to some point south of New York. Many of the photographs in that book were secured when he went on the routine trips of the lighthouse tenders, by permission of the United States Lighthouse Board."

Sources
Addison, E. Florence. "Nathaniel L. Stebbins, Marine Photographer." Old Time New England (Fall 1950): Vol. 41, No. 142, pg. 30-33. Bunting, W. H. Steamers, Schooners, Cutters, and Sloops: Marine photographs of N. L. Stebbins taken from 1884 to 1907. Houghton Mifflin Co. (Boston, Mass.), 1974. Lohns, Daniel. Index to the Nathaniel L. Stebbins Photographic Marine Collection. Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (Boston, Mass.), 1974.

Material in other collections

Stebbins materials are owned by Massport.

Stebbins materials are owned by the National Archives.

The Quincy Historical Society is a good resource for information about boatbuilders.

The Peabody Essex Museum has a small collection of negatives.

The Mariners Museum has a small collection of negatives.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged into four series: 1. Glass plate negatives, 2. Prints, 3. Day books, and 4. Lists, correspondence, and collection information. The materials are indexed alphabetically by vessel name; this index is available in print in the archives.

Record details

Originator
Stebbins, N. L. (Nathaniel Livermore), 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Descriptive Terms
commercial buildings
dockyards
ferries
fireboats
historic buildings
houses
industrial buildings
parks (recreation areas)
races (events)
sailboats
sailing ships
shipyards
statues
steamships
streetscapes
tugboats
yachts
Material Type
black-and-white negatives
black-and-white prints (photographs)
photographs
Subjects
Architectural photography
Marine photography
Places
Boston (Suffolk county, Massachusetts)
Maine (United States)
New Hampshire (United States)
Concord (Middlesex county, Massachusetts)
Lexington (Middlesex county, Massachusetts)
Restrictions
This collection is available for research.
Related Items
Oversize photographs, 1860s-1880s
View of commercial traffic and pedestrians, corner of State Street and Kilby Street
Exterior view of the Boston Museum, Tremont Street
Interior view of Boston Museum Hall, Tremont Street
Interior view of Boston Museum Hall, Tremont Street
Interior view of Boston Museum theatre, Tremont Street
Interior view of Boston Museum theatre, Tremont Street
Interior view of Boston Museum theatre, Tremont Street
Interior view of Doric Hall, Massachusetts State House, facing the north wall
Orchestra composed of employees of the Mason and Hamlin Co.
Orchestra composed of employees of the Mason and Hamlin Company
View of traffic on Tremont Street, including the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Tremont Street at Winter Street, Boston, Mass., 1907
Detail of the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial, Boston Common, Boston, Mass., undated
Photograph of a painting by Margaret Fitzhugh Browne depicting the Old State House
Panoramic view of Marblehead Harbor, 1898
"Alvina," location unknown, undated
Young men's bible class, Tremont Temple, Boston, Mass., Apr. 10, 1898
Southwood, the Schlesinger Estate, Warren St., Brookline, Mass.
Publications Referencing This Collection
Addison, E. Florence. (Fall 1950, Vol. 41, No. 142). "Nathaniel L. Stebbins, Marine Photographer." Old Time New England.. Boston, Mass.: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Pg. 30-33.
Bunting, W. H.. (1974). Steamers, Schooners, Cutters, and Sloops: Marine photographs of N. L. Stebbins taken from 1884 to 1907. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co..
Lohnes, Dan. (1974). Index to the Nathaniel L. Stebbins Photographic Marine Collection. Boston, Mass.: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
Stebbins, N. L. (Nathaniel Livermore), 1847-1922. (1891). The illustrated coast pilot : With sailing directions : the coast of New England from New York to Eastport, ME. Boston, Mass.: N. L. Stebbins.
Stebbins, N. L. (Nathaniel Livermore), 1847-1922. (1896). The yachtsman's album : containing portraits of two hundred and forty yachts, representing all classes. Reproduced from photographs, with a descriptive index. Boston, Mass.: N.L. Stebbins,.
Stebbins, N. L. (Nathaniel Livermore), 1847-1922. (1912). The new navy of the United States. Outing Pub. Co.,.
Conservation Note
In 1974, with the assistance of the National Endowment for the Arts, SPNEA removed the prints from their acidic sample books and photographically reprocessed them. The intention of this act was to render the photographs chemically inert and thus increase their longevity.
Language Note
This collection is entirely in English.
Preferred Citation
[Item identification.] Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection (PC047). Historic New England.
Processing Information
This electronic finding aid was originally created by Library & Archives staff in 2009. It was updated by Abigail Cramer, April, 2013.
Rules and Conventions
This finding aid is DACS-compliant.

Browse Collection

Use the links below to browse up and down the collection hierarchy from the current record.

Comments