Friday, February 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes

As a visitor to the Library Company, you might see any of the thousands of objects in our collection in a variety of ways.  You could view prints, pamphlets, and paintings as part of an exhibition in the gallery, study rare books in the reading room, or unfold a map from the 18th century in the print room.  What you probably won’t see is what these objects looked like before they were framed, organized and cataloged into the collection.  In fact, many items arrive at the Library Company like this: 

So how does a box like this become a collection ready for researchers or an exhibition?  For the answer we must step into what some would call the less than glamorous (this blogger disagrees!) world of processing. 

The Library Company received this box full of glass and film negatives, photographic prints, and journals from the Morris family to augment the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection already at the Library Company.  In order to integrate these new works into the Print Department, a lot of work needs to be done.  First, each negative and photographic print must be housed in its own acid-free paper envelope for preservation.  Then the envelopes are ordered chronologically in specially made archival boxes.
In order to find information like date, location and subject of the photos we have a few resources at our disposal.  Negatives can be placed on a lightbox like this one which allow the photograph to come to life even when there is no print.  Certain small details may not be visible until the negative is digitized, but the lightbox allows us to get a general idea of the photo’s subject.  In  many cases, this part of the process needs to be completed rapidly.  Outside their original housing perhaps for the first time in years, some film negatives begin to curl and warp.  Similarly, if the emulsion on a glass negative is starting to flake sitting out on a lightbox could potentially speed up the damage. 

In the case of this collection, information such as the date and location of the photograph are often easy to find thanks to Marriott C. Morris’s meticulous notes and the Morris family’s dedication to preserving his work.  Morris kept journals and recorded the date, time, lighting, subject and camera used for many of his photographs.  He also  wrote basic information like location and date on the original envelopes and sometimes scratched a title into the border of the negative.  If a negative matches up with a journal entry, we have all the information we need.  If not, we garner what we can from the envelope and give the negative a title drawn from the subject of the photograph.  Once the negative is digitized, new details may emerge allowing us to title the photograph more specifically.  For example, Morris took many images of his family.  Recognizing a person in an unlabeled photograph would change the title from [Baby girl] to [Janet, 10 months].
Once all the negatives have been housed and organized, they will be given accession numbers and the next phase of the project can begin.  The negatives are scanned and placed into a database of high quality digital images on the Library Company’s server.  We create another database with all the information gleaned from the journals and the negatives themselves, as well as the digital filenames of the scans, so that the collection can easily be cataloged.  Catalog records and the digital images will be made available online to the public through the Library Company’s catalogs WolfPAC and ImPAC, which can be found on the homepage of our website.  With the collection finally organized, accessioned, rehoused, and labeled researchers can easily use these resources and Library Company staff can display the items in exhibitions both in the gallery and online. 

All of this important work for the Morris Collection could not be done without the generosity of the Morris family.  With their donation of their grandfather’s work, David Marriott Morris, Eleanor Rhoads Morris Cox, and William Perot Morris also donated the funds to process and preserve the collection.  Thanks to the Morris family, people across Philadelphia and the world will be able to enjoy and learn from Marriott C. Morris’s photographs both at the Library Company and online.

Alison Van Denend
Assistant Project Manager
The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love is in the Air

Perhaps as a distraction from yet another month of winter weather, turning the calendars to February focuses some of our thoughts on Valentine’s Day and romance. While we are all familiar with today’s ubiquitous visual records of weddings, I found myself wondering about love and marriage and photography in an earlier time period, and began looking through the Library Company’s collections with an eye to romance.
In the late 19th century marriage and courtship found their way into popular visual culture through comic stereographs like this one by Philadelphia photographer William Rau   The  large umbrella undoubtedly hid the young couple’s furtive kissing. 

 William Rau. Before Marriage, albumen print stereograph, 1897. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Sandra Markham. 

The interruption of clandestine romantic activities between courting couples or within (and even outside) a marriage was a recurring theme of comic stereographs.  Rau, for example, also copyrighted a series of a dozen stereographs telling the story of Mr. and Mrs. Turtledove. When a new attractive French cook entered their household, romantic complications ensued. Mrs. Turtledove finds incriminating flour-covered handprints on Mr. Turtledove’s jacket and demands that he leave their home. The sheepish husband wins back his wife’s affections and replaces the good-looking young servant with a homely older woman. 

 William Rau. “She Must Leave This House At Once,” albumen print stereograph, 1902. The Library Company of Philadelphia. 

More respectful visual depictions of matrimony can also be found in the Library Company’s collections, including marriage certificates. A number contain photographs of the bride and groom, and in some cases, even the officiant presiding over the ceremony.  

Marriage Certificate for Thomas Rhahle and Mary Dasher, chromolithograph with albumen photographs. York PA: Crider & Brother, ca. 1885. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of David Doret. 

This chromolithographic marriage certificate celebrates the union between Thomas Rhahle and Mary Dasher that took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 28, 1885. Although the certificate incorporates the still somewhat new technology of photography, its owners have not yet acquired mastery of the visual language. The bride’s photograph is placed in the oval on the right side with the result that her back is to her groom. The photograph of the groom shows a man looking far more like a carefree bachelor with his cigarette dangling out of his mouth and his hat placed at a rakish angle on his head than a man about to enter into the solemn bonds of matrimony. 

Amateur Philadelphia photographer Marriott C. Morris has captured a more expected, and now traditional, view of a wedding couple in this photograph. 

 Marriott C. Morris, Wedding of Sarah W. Perot and Richard M. Lea, April 17, 1901, digital print from original glass negative. The Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Sarah Perot and Richard Lea, the bride and groom, are placed in the front and center of the group which includes a large number of groomsmen and bridesmaids. The older gentleman with the high collar in the background is most likely the minister who performed the ceremony on April 17, 1901. 

Library Company photographs document not only the beginning of wedded bliss, but also celebrate the longevity of love and marriage like this portrait of an older couple. Taken at a Philadelphia studio, the cabinet card’s mount has been customized to commemorate the unfortunately unidentified husband and wife’s fifty- year marriage.

Tyson & Son. Unidentified Couple’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, albumen print cabinet card, 1903. The Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs