New-York Historical Society portrait collection
Language of Materials
Collection consists of circa 45,000 prints and photographs of varying format and media, from ordinary black-and-white engravings based on paintings to rare hand-colored mezzotints, and from posed, professional studio photographs to informal snapshots. Likenesses of American men who achieved national fame before 1930 predominate. There are also numerous images of prominent New Yorkers, theatrical personalities, eminent Europeans who figure in United States history, and views of birthplaces, tombs, statues, and associated items. Includes many portraits of American presidents through Franklin D. Roosevelt, of poet Walt Whitman, and other celebrities of the 1800s. People or organizations whose papers or artwork are at the New-York Historical Society tend to be well-represented, including statesman Albert Gallatin, sculptor John Rogers, the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, hotel association members, and the Salmagundi Club. Several large collections are dispersed in the file by sitters' names: thousands of portraits culled chiefly from illustrated books and donated by Robert Fridenberg and circa 250 prints by Albert and Max Rosenthal of celebrated historical figures.
The collection is organized in four series:
- Series I.
- Individuals and Family Groups
- Series II.
- Series III.
- Series IV.
Items in the container list designated [crossed out] were marked thus on a paper copy of the original (2003) finding aid to the collection, and are possibly misfiled or missing.
Scope and Contents
The Portrait Collection (a.k.a. the Portrait File) contains prints and photographs which were taken or made as portraits of people. Portraits acquired by the New-York Historical Society have simply been filed alphabetically by sitter for decades; this finding aid is an attempt to give greater access to the collection. The collection is divided into four series: Individuals and Family Groups; Groups; Royalty; and Unidentified. Thereunder, each series has been further organized by size in order to provide adequate housing and conservation of the material. Family groups as well as individuals can be found in Series I; groups of unrelated people can be found in Series II. European Royalty can be found in Series III. Portraits in which a name was illegible, as well as those on which no name was inscribed, can be found in Series IV. The Portrait File contains examples of many different formats of photography, most notably cabinet cards, snapshots, and studio portraits. Etchings, engravings, lithographs, and photomechanical prints are included as well. Portraits included here are from many dates, although most date from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. One notable early portrait of Jacobus Critonius (identified as James Crichton) was cut from a 1640 issue of Museum Historicum. Early portrait photography includes a photograph of John C. Fremont, taken by Root in 1855; the file includes an accompanying print made after the photo. In some cases, there is a great quantity of portraits of one person. In general many portraits exist for American presidents, Civil War generals, and New York City mayors. In another example, nineteen portraits of George Monck (1608-1670), the Duke of Albermarle, are present.
Series I. Individuals and Family Groups is divided in five subseries: Small, Medium, Large, and Oversize formats, and plates from the book Men of Affairs. In each subseries except the last, the portraits are filed alphabetically by sitter's surname. As cross-references between subseries do not exist, researchers should be sure to check for a name in each (e.g., images of George Washington are found in small, medium, large, and oversize formats). Filing rules were established and were followed for all subseries where relevant. In general, women are filed under their married names, if known, and then their first names, if known. Names beginning in "Saint" are filed in S miscellaneous in between "Sah" and "Saj." Names beginning in "Mc" or "Mac" are filed together before other M names. British nobility are filed, as noted above, alphabetically. In general, a place name acts as the surname. For example, William Cavendish, Duke of Portland is filed under "Portland, Victor Frederick William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of." Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, is filed under "Clarendon, Edward Hyde, Earl of." While most persons pictured in this series are Americans, and particularly New Yorkers, the following historical figures do appear: Julius Caesar, Saint Cecelia, Alexander the Great, Galileo, Jesus, and Cupido, the Hottentot Evangelist. Portraits of E. B. Child, who was also a major donor to this collection, can be found in the Theatrical Portrait File as well as here (childhood portraits and pictures of his gravestone).
• Subseries I.A. Individuals and Family Groups: Small Format contains portraits that are smaller than 9 by 14 inches and are housed in boxes. Surnames or individuals with more than five images have their own folders. Those with less than five images are filed in alphabetical "miscellaneous" files. If a specific name is being sought and it does not appear in the container list, the miscellaneous files should be consulted. Photographs of New York mayor John V. Lindsay include some of him performing in a 1938 production of George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple," put on by the St. Paul's School Dramatic Club. The Harold Applegate folder has photographs of Mr. Applegate in a dancing costume he wore in an 1899 carnival at his dancing school class, along with the program for the event. The N-YHS Museum owns the costume he wore in the carnival and the photograph. The Harry Scherman folder includes a homemade book in which identical photographs of Scherman are decorated with different cutouts of hats. A photograph of artist Thomas Nast shows a corner of his studio. Several eighteenth and nineteenth century engravings show Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham (1536–1624), Lord High Admiral, England. A portrait of George Washington printed on silk was created for the bicentennial of his birth. A small-sized memorial card for Maria Jane Hurd, who died in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 12, 1849, is printed with an oval portrait of her.
• Subseries I.B. Individuals and Family Groups: Medium Format includes portraits that are housed in flat file drawers. Portraits in this subseries are between the sizes of 9 by 14 and 20 by 24 inches. All images are filed alphabetically, with list access provided to every sitter's name. Sitters with their own folders have been so denoted. Folders of surnames have also been denoted in this way. John Ogilvie is pictured in an early mezzotint from 1775. Several other American print portraits date from circa 1776. An early photograph shows the photographer Sarony. Several sets of portraits have been dispersed throughout this subseries. The Century Gallery of One Hundred Portraits, mainly prints of Americans noted for their contributions to arts and letters, was issued in 1886. A City College of New York class album from circa 1860 contains photographs of the graduates; the sitters are denoted by "CCNY" after their names. Portraits of American presidents often contain notable items. Memorials to Abraham Lincoln printed on silk are included here. Broadsides containing suggestions for how to advertise for memorials to President Theodore Roosevelt are included under his name.
• Subseries I.C. Individuals and Family Groups: Large Format includes portraits that are housed in flat file drawers. Portraits in this subseries are between the sizes of 20 x 24 and 24 x 40 inches. All images are filed alphabetically, with list access provided to every sitter's name. Sitters with their own folders have been so denoted. Folders of surnames have also been denoted in this way. Many of these large images are portraits of Civil War generals lithographed by the Kurz & Allison firm. A photograph of New York governor William Sulzer is set into an oversize display menu made for a dinner given by the Lotus Club of New York on February 8, 1913.
• Subseries I.D. Individuals and Family Groups: Oversize Format includes very large portraits that are housed in flat file drawers. Portraits in this subseries are larger than 24 x 40 inches. All images are filed alphabetically, with list access provided to every sitter's name. Sitters with their own folders have been so denoted. Folders of surnames have also been denoted in this way.
Series II. Groups is divided in four subseries: Small, Medium, Large, and Oversize formats. Portraits are grouped thereunder by broad subjects: Clubs and Organizations; Commercial Activities; Education; Entertainment; Health and Safety; Military; Politics and Government; Religion; and Other. Many photographs in this series show formal dinners held at various New York hotels. Several panoramic photographs can also be found here, including some of dinner guests.
Series III. Royalty is comprised of members of royal families, mainly European. Those who were born into a royal family were considered to be royalty, while those who took on similar titles through conquest, such as Napoleon, the "Emperor of France," were not considered royalty. This series is divided into three subseries: Small, Large, and Oversize formats. Portraits are arranged thereunder by country and then alphabetically (generally by the given name of the King or Queen).
• Subseries III.B. Royalty: Large Format includes portraits that are larger than 9.5 by 11 inches and smaller than 24 by 40 inches, including those sized as "Medium Format" in the preceding two series.
Series IV. Unidentified is arranged by gender, and thereunder by format. Groups are arranged by subject as in Series II. "Large Format" includes portraits that are larger than 9.5 by 11 inches and smaller than 24 by 40 inches, including those sized as "Medium Format" in the preceding two series.
Conditions Governing Access
For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
Conditions Governing Use
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, email@example.com. 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: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions
This collection should be cited as: "New-York Historical Society Portrait Collection, PR 052, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, New-York Historical Society."
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Portrait Collection was accumulated over time, primarily during the 20th century, from a variety of sources, including
• Edmund Bramhall Child (1846–1946).
• Robert Fridenberg, who donated thousands of portraits culled chiefly from illustrated books.
• Henry O. Havemeyer (1847–1907). Many of the prints in Subseries I.B and I.C came from his collection.
• Samuel Verplanck Hoffman (1866–1942), whose copy of Men of Affairs is found in Subseries I.E.
• Daniel Parish Jr. (1838–1914), a collector who was a long-time and regular donor to the Historical Society. On May 15, 1906 alone he gave "1,754 Prints, consisting of portraits (many of them are book plates and cut from Illustrated Newspapers)."
• Max Rosenthal (1833–1918) and Albert Rosenthal (1863–1939), circa 250 prints of celebrated historical figures.
• William Ives Rutter Jr., who gave a large collection of family portraits.
A significant part of this collection consists of portraits separated over time from their original provenance in personal and family papers held in the New-York Historical Society's manuscript department, a practice followed until, perhaps, the late 20th century.
From time to time, material in the Portrait Collection that is determined to have been separated in the past from its original place in personal or family manuscript collections, will be removed and returned to that manuscript collection.
The Portrait Collection remains open for additional single items or small sets of related photographs and other images obtained by gift or purchase.
About this Guide
Collection processed by committee, and a WORD-document finding aid produced June 30, 2003. Archivist Joseph Ditta migrated the original finding aid to ArchivesSpace in March-May 2020.