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Leslie Dorsey collection of pictorial clippings

Call Number

PR 17


1860-1970 (bulk,1860-1920), inclusive


Dorsey, Leslie


87.83 Linear feet (69 boxes)

Language of Materials

This collection is primarily visual. Any text is likely to be in English.


This collection contains the image library amassed by designer Leslie Dorsey, consisting primarily of images from or depicting the Victorian era.

Biographical note

Leslie Dorsey (1912-1979) started his career as a display manager for a specialty shop in Philadelphia. Sometime after 1940, he moved to New York City, where he designed displays for Richard Hudnut cosmetic products. He also designed hotel and restaurant interiors, and wrote, with Janice Devine, a whimsical history of American hotels entitled Fare Thee Well: A Backward Look at Two Centuries of Historic American Hostelries, Fashionable Spas and Seaside Resorts (New York: Crown Publisher, 1964).

A Victorian-era enthusiast, Dorsey also collected pictorial images from Godey's magazines and other period books and catalogs, and assembled them into scrapbooks for reference use in his interior design work. He also used these images to prepare collages which he marketed as "Decou-Optiques" to clients for use in advertisements or background murals. Eventually, Dorsey made his extensive image collection available for "rental" to commercial clients, effectively serving as an early stock image library.


This collection is arranged by subject in five series:

Series I. Clippings and wood engravings
Series II. Creative projects and research files
Series III. Scrapbooks
Series IV. Collages and graphics
Series V. Indexes and professional work

Some of the subject tiles reflect Dorsey's original arrangement and others were added to facilitate access to the materials.

Scope and Contents

The Leslie Dorsey Collection of Pictorial Clippings spans the period from 1850 to 1970 and consists primarily of images from Dorsey's extensive research library of engravings, magazine and catalog illustrations, chromos, and other printed ephemera and illustrations from the Victorian period. Also included are examples of Dorsey's various creative endeavors, including a book proposal, concept scrapbooks for two theatrical musicals, and a number of collages.

The collection has been organized into five series. Series I, Clippings and wood engravings, includes images that Dorsey cut out of period magazines and catalogs and arranged by topic in three ring binders. The binders have been disbound and the contents housed in acid-free folders. Topics are listed alphabetically in the box and folder list, and include, among many others, Agricultural Implements and Farming, Animals, Children, Drugs and Druggists, and Interior Decorations. There are also multiple folders relating to fashion, arranged by date.

Series II, Creative Projects and Research Files, includes Dorsey's proposal for a book on the Centennial Exhibition as well as "concept" sketchbooks containing proposals for two theatrical musicals ("The Ballad of Josie and Jim," about the murder of robber baron Jim Fiske over actress Josie Mansfield, and "Centennial Quartette," a celebration of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia). The scrapbooks have been disbound and housed in acid-free folders. This series also includes some of Dorsey's research files, consisting of contemporaneous newspaper and magazine articles on the Bicentennial of 1976 and a few other topics (Antiques, Art Nouveau, the Metropolitan Opera House and Restaurants and Food). In addition, there are a few folders of ephemera, primarily relating to architectural preservation and tourism in New York City.

Series III, Scrapbooks, includes images and other materials that Dorsey assembled into scrapbooks to illustrate various topics. Topics include dining, drinking, hotels, Christmas, sports, and fairs and expositions (Crystal Palace, Centennial, Columbian, Louisiana Purchase, and Pan-American). There are also a number of scrapbooks relating to New York City, covering a broad range of topics such as Equestrian, 23rd Street, Courthouses and Criminals, and New York City Markets. Additional topics are identified in the box and folder list.

Series IV, Collages and graphics, includes examples of Dorsey's "Decou-Optiques," or collages, which he apparently marketed to clients for use in advertisements or as background murals for articles or products. This series includes both black and white and color collages, depicting various period and historical scenes, including many Christmas scenes. Also included are examples of some of the materials Dorsey used to create the collages, such as decals and cut-out figures.

Dorsey indexed some of his scrapbooks, and these can be found in Series V, Indexes and business papers. Also included in this series are articles and press releases relating to Dorsey, examples of advertisements and articles from Dorsey's clients that incorporate his images, and photographic portraits of Dorsey.

Access restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Leslie Dorsey, 1979.

Collection processed by

Susan Kriete

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:48:28 -0400.
Language: Description is in English


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024