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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Winter/Spring 2003 > Preserving New England on Paper

Preserving New England on Paper


ABOVE Charles Ellsworth Colburn. Sixth plate daguerreotype by John Plimbe, Jr., before 1848.
BELOW Photograph of Bicyclists.

When William Sumner Appleton founded SPNEA in 1910, he had as a goal the creation of a library where he would preserve on paper a visual record of New England. If Appleton were to return today, he no doubt would be extremely pleased about the state of his vision. With more than a million documents in its collection, SPNEA's Library and Archives is a leading source of primary materials about New England's cultural and social history. And, each year, thousands of researchers use those materials to study architecture and interiors, the history of photography, local history, and many other subjects.

More than 350,000 photographs make up the largest part of the holdings- daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cartes de visite, stereographic views, albums, postcards, prints, and negatives dating from the 1840s to the present. These images document New Englanders going about their daily lives and record New England's built and natural environments. Hundreds of photographers, including Baldwin Coolidge, Emma Coleman, Nathaniel Stebbins, Henry Peabody, Mary Northend, and Verner Reed, are represented in the collection.

The extensive architectural holdings include more than 20,000 drawings and related materials, such as accounts, contracts, specifications, builders' guides, product catalogues, and architectural periodicals. The work of at least 400 architects and firms, including Asher Benjamin, Alexander Parris, Luther Briggs, Ogden Codman, Jr., Little and Browne, McKim, Mead, and White, and Eleanor Raymond, is represented.

The graphically stunning collection of ephemera-trade cards, bill heads, trade catalogues, greeting cards, menus, tickets, advertisements, music and theater programs, etc.-never fails to enthrall visitors. These items provide researchers with significant information about New England's material and popular culture.




From dramatic photographic views of New England's scenery to beautifully rendered images of designed gardens, SPNEA's archival holdings contribute to a fuller understanding of the history of New England landscape.

ABOVE An 1885 trade catalogue advertises vegetable and flower seeds, books on gardening, and garden and farm implements.

BELOW LEFT Perspective view of the garden for Alexander Cochrane, Hamilton, Massachusetts, designed by Arthur Shurcliff, c. 1913.

BELOW RIGHT Franconia Notch, from the Lafayette House, Franconia Mountains, N.H., c. 1860, by the Bierstadt Brothers of New Bedford, Massachusetts. This large-format photograph is a superb example of the brothers' work.



Architectural drawings dating from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century include plans for public, religious, and commercial buildings of all types. Designs for domestic buildings range from elaborate proposals for wealthy clients to modest single-family and multifamily homes.

RIGHT Side elevation of a three-family house in Roxbury, Massachusetts, by Samuel Rantin and Son, 1897.

BELOW LEFT Winning competition design by architect Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Jr., for a station for the Boston Elevated Railway Company, 1897.

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ABOVE RIGHT Elevation for a cottage in the Greek Revival style, attributed to Joseph Howard, 1844-46.


LEFT Advertisement for the architectural firm of Luther Briggs & Co., 1871-73.

BELOW Design for a six-room bungalow published in a plan book called Attractive Homes, which was distributed by the Hovey Lumber Company, Providence, Rhode Island, early twentieth century.





Images provide detailed information about the history of New England interiors, such as changing taste, the use of wallpaper and textiles, furniture styles, and domestic technology.

RIGHT Louisa A. Rhodes's kitchen, Salem, Massachusetts, 1889.

BELOW LEFT Stereo view of the drawing room in the home of Josiah Quincy, 5 Park Street, Boston, 1869-73.

BELOW RIGHT Design proposal for a dining room by the well-known interior decorating firm of A. H. Davenport of Boston, early twentieth century.




Thousands of photographs capture the activities of people from all walks of life at work and at play.

LEFT Poker Player, Morris-ville, Vermont, 1950, by Verner Reed

BELOW LEFT Unidentified family enjoying clams on their porch in Duxbury, Massachusetts,1890s.

BELOW RIGHT Women at work in the bookbinding department at the University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, c. 1875.

-Lorna Condon
Director of Library & Archives

The Library and Archives is open to all by appointment, Wednesdays through Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission: SPNEA members free, nonmember adults $5, students $3. Please call (617) 227-3957, ext. 226 to make an appointment.

Preserving New England on Paper