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Library and Archives

The vast collections of Historic New England's Library and Archives provide important documentation for New England's cultural and architectural history. Its holdings include photographs, architectural drawings, manuscripts, ephemera, prints and engravings, artwork, and books. Visit Collections Access to explore Historic New England's online collection of manuscripts, photography, and more. 

Library and Archival Collections

Carte-de-Visite of a Boy and His Dog, Newburyport, Mass. (195333)

In abundance and variety, photographs outrank all other forms of information. The more than 400,000 images are arranged by specific medium, including extensive collections of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cartes-de-visite, stereographic views, albums, postcards, and standard prints. They record buildings, domestic interiors, commercial interiors, streetscapes, landscapes, people at work, relaxing and at play, and modes of transportation. Many of New England's leading nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers are represented.

Researchers interested in the history of New England architecture, architectural styles, individual architects, specific buildings or types, ornamental or construction details, garden design, and interior decoration will delight in the collections of more than 30,000 architectural drawings and specifications, American builders' guides, pattern books, decorating manuals, trade catalogues, and other advertising ephemera that provide useful information about architectural adornment and building materials. The work of more than 450 architects practicing from about 1800 until the 1970s is represented.

The Library and Archives' collections of family papers and account books provide significant information about New England's social, cultural, economic, agricultural, and literary history. For example, the Codman Family Papers include correspondence from Edith Wharton to Ogden Codman, Jr.; important documents related to the completion of the Washington Monument and the construction of the State, War, and Navy Building and the Library of Congress are part of the Casey Family Papers; the business papers of Harrison Gray Otis (member of Congress 1791-1801 and mayor of Boston 1829-1831) reveal crucial details about the development of Boston's Beacon Hill; and the Jewett Family Papers contain correspondence between the noted New England author Sarah Orne Jewett and members of her family.

Poster for Paine Piazza Furniture, Boston, Mass. (195711)

The ephemera collection includes postcards, greeting cards, clippings, programs, broadsides, advertisements, guidebooks, menus, tickets, invitations, rewards of merit, product catalogues, and illustrated invoices. Ephemera are printed materials meant to be used and then discarded. Saving such expendable pieces of daily life enables us to glimpse into the experiences of New Englanders of past eras: postcards, greeting cards, clippings, programs, broadsides, advertisements, guidebooks, menus, tickets, invitations, rewards of merit, product catalogs, and illustrated invoices. These items are rich in information about material culture, the history of advertising, the evolution of graphic design, and the history of technology.

The Library and Archives also holds the institutional archives of Historic New England. Essential to the understanding of the mission and purpose of the organization and the passion and commitment of its founder, William Sumner Appleton, these records are also valuable for researching the history of the preservation movement in the United States.

Remarkable Collections

The Nathaniel L. Stebbins Collection

The Nathaniel L. Stebbins Collection

One of Historic New England's most significant photographic collections, the Nathaniel L. Stebbins collection consists of approximately 2,500 original negatives and approximately 6,000 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.


The Boston Transit Archive

Construction of Boston Subway, 1897 (195289)

At the close of the nineteenth century, city streets had become so congested with trolleys, wagons, and other vehicles that governments urgently sought to resolve such a dire threat to safety and health. Boston was the first in North America to arrive at the solution of shifting traffic underground by means of a subway. The city and the private company that attained such a remarkable engineering achievement also left us a dazzling photographic record of the monumental undertaking.


The Verner Reed Photographic Collection

Verner Reed, Portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy (194512)

Verner Reed initially utilized photography to record the furniture he was crafting himself. Soon the medium evolved into a mode of self-expression for him. Reed moved to Boston in the early 1950s, where he spent much of his time, camera in hand, exploring the city's streets and photographing its inhabitants, and eventually branched out into all corners of New England. These two worlds - creating images of life in and around the city and earning a living from photography - came together serendipitously at the protests in response to the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. As a photographer for Life magazine, Reed capitalized on opportunities to produce images that reflect the character of notable figures in the news.


The Jewett Family Papers

Warren's Portraits, Cabinet Photograph of Sarah Orne Jewett (195045)

Sarah Orne Jewett was the author of many important works, such as The Country of the Pointed Firs and A Country Doctor. She was also a prolific writer of letters to family members and friends in the literary circle centered on Boston in the late nineteenth century.


The Original Art Collection

Susannah Hickling Lewis Williard, Water Fall (165298)

Artists, professional and amateur alike, have found profound inspiration in New England's endlessly varied topography. Native New Englanders and newcomers have been captivated by forest and stream, mountain and coast, residential neighborhood and commercial district, and have pictured their interpretations in a broad array of two-dimensional formats and media.

The original art collection contains approximately 1,000 drawings, paintings, sketches, and illustrations in mainly ink, pen, pencil, and watercolor, dating from the 1820s to the 1930s. Picturesque rural spots and bustling urban scenes across New England are portrayed, with a small number of representations of other locales in the United States, England, and France.


The Edwin Whitefield Graphic Collection


Edwin Whitefield, Webb Mansion, Conn. (196248)

English painter and teacher Edwin Whitefield immigrated to the United States in 1837. Later in his career, he grew fascinated with the antiquities of New England and set himself the task of capturing the historic houses of the area before they were lost to time. In the course of his career, Whitefield sketched hundreds of buildings in the region. Historic New England holds the artist's original sketchbooks.

Library and Archives