Small photographs and postcards, 1890s-1980s

Collection Type

  • Photography





You can find this within


The Small photographs and postcards series of the General Photographic Collection contains approximately 5,000 prints smaller than 4 x 5 inches and 5,000 picture postcards that cover a wide range of subjects, especially historic buildings and transportation. There is a significant group of images of seventeenth and eighteenth-century structures which a number of architectural historians took in the approximate period of 1910 to the mid-1940s. Of particular value are those pictures made in the course of repair or restoration that reveal structural features. Overall, the emphasis is on domestic architecture, notably on Cape Cod, in southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and eastern Connecticut.

The subject areas of the small photographs of exceptional strength are sailing vessels, arranged by vessel name; lighthouses from Maine to New York Harbor; trains and railroad stations; and miscellaneous vehicles.

The Postcards series of the General Photographic Collection contains approximately 5,000 items, ranging in date from the 1890s to 1980s.

Postcards are an important source of documentary information about a variety of commercial, residential, civic, and industrial buildings which were often ignored by photographers in search of the picturesque. They have left a record of many hamlets and small towns which otherwise would have gone unrecorded in the photographic record, as well as the major resorts and main streets whose glory has faded.

The geographic scope of the postcards is very exapnsive. Boston is most richly documented, followed by resorts and important manufacturing centers throughout New England. Small town merchants often commissioned postcard views of local sites of interest, such as civic buildings, parks, and imposing residential streets, which provide otherwise unavailable information about many areas not typically considered tourist attractions.

In the Standard-size photographs series of the General Photographic Collection, there are 8 x10 photographic proofs for many of the postcards manufactured by Thomson & Thomson and the New England News Company. On the versos of each print are detailed instructions for hand-coloring the images. Many proofs show evidence of manipulation in the form of decals of cars or pedestrians, which were intended to enliven these scenes.

Source: Guide to the Library and Archives, 4-6.


Descriptive Terms

commercial buildings
industrial buildings
main streets
public buildings
parks (recreation areas)
historic buildings
historic houses
restoration (process)
sailing vessels
trains (vehicle groupings)
railroad stations
religious buildings
exterior views
black-and-white prints (photographs)
picture postcards

Physical Description

ca. 5,000 photographic prints : black-and-white, + ca. 5,000 picture postcards : color and black-and-white
ca. 5,000 picture postcards : color, black-and-white

Collection Code


Collection Name

General photographic collection

Reference Code



Boston (Suffolk county, Massachusetts)
Cape Cod (Barnstable county, Massachusetts) [peninsula]
Rhode Island (United States)
Connecticut (United States)
Maine (United States)
New Hampshire (United States)
Vermont (United States)

Record Details

Material Type

black-and-white prints (photographs)
picture postcards


New York Harbor (N.Y. and N.J.)
Architectural photography
Architectural photography

Description Level




This series is arranged in two sub-series: geographic locations and subjects. There may also be additional subdivisions by such elements as the names of streets, structures, or photographers.

There are indexes by subject headings, photographers, and portrait sitters.

Reparative Language in Collections Records

Historic New England is committed to implementing reparative language description for existing collections and creating respectful and inclusive language description for new collections. If you encounter language in Historic England's Collections Access Portal that is harmful or offensive, or you find materials that would benefit from a content warning, please contact [email protected].