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Irving S. Olds collection of naval and other historical prints and related papers

Call Number

PR 47


1587-1960, inclusive


Olds, Irving S. (Irving Sands), 1887-1963


23.5 Linear feet in 38 flat files and 9 boxes

Language of Materials

Most of the collection is in English, but many prints are captioned in French, German, Latin, and possibly other languages.


The collection consists of approximately 600 engravings, etchings, lithographs, and other prints collected by lawyer and industrialist Irving S. Olds (1887-1963). The bulk of the prints portray scenes and events from the United States' colonial, Revolutionary, and early republic periods. These are primarily military in nature, most especially naval actions, with the American Revolution and the War of 1812 being particularly well-represented. Comprising the balance of the prints are portraits of naval commanders and prominent Americans (especially George Washington), views of New York City and the Hudson Valley, colonial era historical scenes, and some early maps. In addition, there are some of Olds's personal papers that relate to his collection, including his prepared remarks for lantern slide presentations of his collection in the 1950s, catalogues, a photograph album related to his wife Evelyn Foster Olds's posthumous exhibition at the Peabody Museum of her work based on images from Olds's collection, and other documents.

Biographical / Historical

Lawyer, industrialist, philanthropist, and art collector Irving Sands Olds (1887-1963) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. from Yale in 1907 and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1910. He spent the next year as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes before joining the law firm of White & Case in 1911. White & Case was then a relatively new firm, having been formed in 1901 by Justin DuPratt White and George Bowen Case. Olds was made a partner in 1917. Also in 1917 he married Evelyn Foster (1889-1957) of New York.

Olds was an important player in building White & Case's banking and corporate clientele through the 1910s and into the 1920s, including Bankers Trust, J.P. Morgan & Co., and the Foundation Company. In 1926, he moved to Paris for two years to open the firm's office there. Returning to the U.S. in the late 1920s, he became deeply involved in White & Case's expanding relationship with U.S. Steel. In 1936, White & Case was selected by U.S. Steel to be its outside general counsel, and Olds was elected to the company's board of directors. In 1940, Olds accepted the position of U.S. Steel's chairman and CEO. Though the position was initially expected to be for only an interim period, Olds remained for twelve years until he retired from U.S. Steel in 1952, though still remaining on the board. Although Olds no longer practiced law during his years at U.S. Steel, he remained a partner of White & Case. After retiring from U.S. Steel, he returned to the law firm where he served on its executive committee until his death.

Olds was a supporter of educational and cultural institutions, especially in the last two decades of his life, including his alma mater, Yale, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among several others. By the early 1940s, if not before, he had developed a deep interest in art and history, particularly naval history. In 1942, he curated and wrote the catalogue for the exhibition "The United States Navy, 1776 to 1815" held at the Grolier Club, which included prints of American naval engagements and American naval commanders from his and other collections. Olds amassed a collection of over 1100 prints, paintings, silhouettes, maps, broadsides, and decorative textiles related to the American Revolution, War of 1812, New York City views, and other subject matter primarily depicting scenes from the colonial and early republic years of the United States. 500 of these objects were exhibited in 1951 at U.S. Steel, and many were displayed in 1959 at the Peabody Museum. Through the 1950s, Olds made slide presentations based on his collection. He became a trustee of the New-York Historical Society and was the organization's president in 1962-63, just before his death.

Olds's collecting interest also served as an inspiration for his wife, Evelyn Foster Olds. An amateur painter, she took the themes and images she found in Olds's prints and painted them on trays and other objects. In February 1957, shortly before Evelyn's death that July, Harry Shaw Newman organized an exhibition of her work at the Old Print Shop in New York. The following year, Evelyn's work was shown at the Peabody Museum and, in cooperation with the United States National Museum and the United States Marine Corps Museum, at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building.

Just a month or so before his death in March 1963, Olds made a gift of many of his prints to his law firm, White & Case. In his will, he bequeathed to New-York Historical the option to select and take whichever items it wanted from his collection. N-YHS selected several hundred items, which were distributed among the appropriate curatorial departments in the organization. This finding aid includes those objects placed with N-YHS's Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections (PPAC). In 2018, White & Case donated to N-YHS about 120 of the prints they had received from Olds, and this finding aid includes those objects as well.

(The above note was based primarily on White & Case's history published by the firm on-line at ; the New York Times obituaries of Irving S. Olds and Evelyn Foster Olds; and documents in the collection.)

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized in two series, which are based on N-YHS's two sources of acquisition of the prints:

Series I. Prints & Related Papers from the Original Olds Donation

Series II. Prints from the Olds Collection Donated by White & Case

The subject content of the prints in both series is essentially identical, though Series I has many more prints. Series I also holds the documentary materials related to the Olds collection.

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of approximately 600 engravings, etchings, lithographs, aquatints, mezzotints, woodcuts, and other prints. There are also some documentary materials related to the collection from Olds's personal papers, including catalogues, labels from the original framed print backing, and his lecture notes.

The bulk of the prints portray naval actions, especially from the American Revolution and the War of 1812, with an emphasis on dramatic battles made famous in the slogans of heroic captains. Numerous American, British, and French prints show such American triumphs as John Paul Jones's "Bon Homme Richard" attacking the British "Serapis" in 1779 ("I have not yet begun to fight"), the victory of the "Constitution" over the British "Guerriere" in 1812, the frigate "United States" capture of the British "Macedonian" in 1812, and Oliver H. Perry's victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 ("We have met the enemy and they are ours"), among many other events. Views of American defeats include the death of Captain James Lawrence when the British "Shannon" captured his "Chesapeake" in 1813 ("Don't give up the ship"). The French and Indian War is represented; the earliest naval event depicted in the collection is the British capture of Louisbourg at Cape Breton, Canada, during that war. The Tripolitan War is also well-represented, notably with references to the loss of the frigate "Philadelphia" at Tripoli.

Portraits of naval commanders are found in the collection, including William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, John Paul Jones (often rendered as Iohn Paul Iones), Thomas Macdonough, Robert Hopkins, and others. Some military actions other than naval are represented in prints, including Revolutionary War battles at Bunker Hill, Brooklyn, Saratoga, Yorktown, and the siege of Charleston, South Carolina; and War of 1812 incidents such as Richard Johnson's defeat of Tecumseh at Moraviantown, Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans, the British invasion of Washington, D.C., and the massacre of American prisoners at Dartmoor. The latest war represented is the War with Mexico with one lithograph of Taylor's victory at Buena Vista in 1847.

Many prints are views of New York City/New Amsterdam and New York waterways, such as Harlem River, New York Harbor, Hudson River, and Catterskill Falls (i.e., Kaaterskills Falls). There are a few prints of other locales, such as New Haven and Boston. There are prints of notable Americans, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, among others; one print of Oliver Wendell Holmes is inscribed to Olds.

There are several maps, such as a map of North and South America by Abraham Ortelius (1587); of North America by William Berry (1680); of Wight Island, England (1676?); of Virginia (late 1600s?); and two maps by Johann Baptist Homann (1724?); among others. Unusual formats for this collection include one manuscript letter from Robert Fulton to David Cooke at Pittsburgh, dated October 15, 1814 and a group portrait photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court (circa 1921).

Access Restrictions

For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, 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:

Preferred Citation Note

This collection should be cited as: Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval and Other Historical Prints and Related Papers, PR 47, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note

Most of the collection, which comprises Series I, was bequeathed to N-YHS by Irving Olds in 1963. The balance of the collection, comprising Series II, was donated to N-YHS in May 2018 (with a final delivery of objects in April 2021) by Olds's former law firm, White & Case.

Related Materials Note

The bequest of Irving Olds, of which this print collection was a part, included a wide variety of documents and objects. These were distributed to various curatorial departments of N-YHS. The museum holds paintings, watercolors, furniture, and other such objects. The library holds books, broadsides, letters from Oliver Wendell Holmes, and other documents, which are cataloged in Bobcat. The largest portion of Olds's personal papers held at N-YHS are the Irving Olds papers (MS 325); these are currently being processed and cataloged and will be opened for use in May 2019.

The original Olds print collection was documented in a catalogue and two supplements; annotated versions of these are available in the N-YHS library:

Original 1952 catalogue, with supplementary pages, covering objects numbered 1-834: "American naval and other historical prints and paintings, including portraits of American naval commanders and some early views of New York." Call phrase: Print Room Reference NE215.U5 O53 1951.

Circa 1958 supplement, covering objects 835 to 943: "Additional prints, paintings, etc., which were not included in the 1952 published list of American naval and other historical prints and paintings, portraits of American naval commanders and some early views of New York : supplement." Call phrase: Print Room Reference NE215.U5 O53 1952 Suppl. 1.

1962 supplement, covering objects 944 to 1219: "Items not published in the 1952 published list and subsequent supplement of American naval and other historical prints and paintings : second supplement (June 1962)." Call phrase: Print Room Reference NE215.U5 O53 1952 Suppl. 2.

Collection processed by

Alison Barr and Larry Weimer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:47:04 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid is written in English

Processing Information Note

The processing history of the Olds collection is not entirely known. By the early 1990s, most of the prints that were originally framed were unframed and the collection was rehoused in archival folders. Additional prints were unframed and added to the folders in 1999. Description of the collection, though, was generally limited to the original Olds catalogues of the 1950s and 1960s, a card catalog prepared likely in the 1960s by N-YHS, and a summary on-line catalog entry.

In 2018, spurred by the donation of about 120 additional Olds collection prints from White & Case, a project was undertaken to complete a more comprehensive on-line inventory. Primarily using existing object level catalogues and other records, as well as some review of the objects themselves, volunteer Alison Barr created an on-line item-level inventory/container list for both the original 1963 bequest and the 2018 donation. Archivist Larry Weimer structured the overall finding aid, added collection and series level notes, and processed the set of personal papers (Subseries I.B). This description was completed in early 2019 and the finding aid was published at that time. A last delivery of 38 objects in 2021 by White & Case was processed by Alison Barr and Larry Weimer in 2022. In addition, several framed items from the Olds collection were found in the stacks in 2022; conservator Alan Balicki unframed those, and the prints added to the finding aid in 2022 by Larry Weimer.

All prints received in 2018 (and the final delivery of 38 objects in 2021) from White & Case were in frames; these were removed by, or under the guidance of, conservator Alan Balicki. The portion of any backing that included labels was retained in the collection with the prints. An inventory number assigned by White & Case was typically found on the backing of the print or elsewhere; this was transcribed by the conservator on to the print.


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