Information About the Collections


A great revolution in the history of poster prints was the development of printing techniques that allowed for inexpensive, mass production. The most notable of these, lithography, was invented in 1796. It was soon followed by chromolithography, which allowed for large numbers of posters to be illustrated in vibrant colors. By the 1890s, these techniques had spread throughout Europe. A number of noted artists created poster art in this period and posters would soon transform the thoroughfares of Paris into the art galleries of the street.” Due to their commercial success, some artists were in great demand. Theater stars personally selected their favorite artist to create posters for an upcoming performance. The popularity of poster art was such that in 1884 a major exhibition was held in Paris. By the 1890s, poster art had widespread usage in Europe and America, advertising everything from bicycles to bullfights.

In 1989, a pilot project aptly titled American Memory laid the foundation for the National Digital Library Program, which began in 1995. This program works to digitize selected collections of the Library of Congress that emphasize the complex history of an American cultural heritage. Not only serving to digitize books, pamphlets and manuscripts, the Digital Library Program also works extensively to collect images that reflected the unique and vast holdings of the Library of Congress.



A popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. and Canadian cities and towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the panoramic map. Known also as bird's-eye views, perspective maps, panoramas, and aero views, panoramic maps are non-photographic representations of cities, portrayed as if viewed from above at an oblique angle. Although not generally drawn to scale, they show street patterns, individual buildings, and major landscape features in perspective. Preparation of panoramic maps involved a vast amount of painstakingly detailed labor. For each project a frame or projection was developed, showing in perspective the pattern of streets. The artist then walked in the street, sketching buildings, trees, and other features to present a complete and accurate landscape as though seen from an elevation of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. These data were entered on the frame in his workroom. The most successful print publisher in the nineteenth century was the firm of Currier & lves. Best remembered for their views of daily life in Victorian America, they also prepared bird's-eye views of New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. However, they were not a leading panoramic mapmaking firm and their distinctive views were primarily of large cities. Most post-Civil War panoramic maps were of parochial interest, highlighting small cities and towns, and were more detailed than the average Currier & lves city perspective. Famous panoramic artists included Albert Ruger, Thaddeus Fowler, and the brothers, O.H and H.H Bailey. (Library of Congress)



The photochrom process was initially developed in Switzerland and was spelled without an "e", so the correct original spelling was actually "photochrom". Once the process was introduced in America, the "e" was added to aid pronunciation. A Photochrom is a color photo lithograph, produced from a black-and-white negative. The final prints were created using different color impressions from multiple lithographic stones. The stones used by the publisher Detroit Photographic Company were imported from Bavaria and coated with a special Syrian 'asphaltum' substance that would be chemically sensitized to light, put in contact with a photographic negative, exposed to the sun for up to several hours, then "developed" in oils of turpentine. A separate stone would be made for each color to be used. A minimum of four stones and as many as fourteen stones might be used for a given image. (Passage: American Photochrom Archive, Image: Library of Congress)



A majority of the Civil War photos come from the original glass plate negatives in the holdings at the Library of Congress. The plates depict the activities both during and immediately following the War (1861-1865). The process of taking photographs during the War was complex and time-consuming. Photographers mixed their own chemicals and prepared their own wet plate glass negatives. The negatives had to be prepared, exposed, and developed within minutes, before the emulsion dried. This was a difficult process to master in a studio setting and even more difficult to work outdoors. Photographers transported their supplies in a wagon, improvised a darkroom, and learned to use their chemicals in both the blistering heat and bitter cold. In the 1880s dry plate negatives were introduced. These glass negatives were commercially available and did not need to be developed immediately after the exposure. (Library of Congress)



This image comes from the George Grantham Bain Collection which represents one of America's earliest news picture agencies. The collection richly documents sports events, theater, celebrities, crime, strikes, disasters, political activities including the woman suffrage campaign, conventions and public celebrations. The photographs Bain produced and gathered for distribution through his news service were worldwide in their coverage, but there was a special emphasis on life in New York City. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1900s to the mid-1920s, but scattered images can be found as early as the 1860s and as late as the 1930s. (Library of Congress)



Shortly after the invention of photography in 1839, the desire to show overviews of cities and landscapes prompted photographers to create panoramas. Unlike conventional cameras, panoramic cameras distort images and distortion is most evident in street scenes where the camera is positioned at the intersection of two streets. In this panorama, the straight street, which is parallel with the camera, seems curved. Early panoramas were made by placing two or more daguerreotype plates side-by-side. Daguerreotypes, the first commercially available photographic process, used silver- coated copper plates to produce highly detailed images. In the late nineteenth century, cameras were manufactured specifically for producing panoramas. These cameras were either swing-lens cameras, where the lens rotated while the film remained stationary, or 360-degree rotation cameras, where both the camera and the film rotated. The first mass-produced American panoramic camera, the Al-Vista, was introduced in 1898. The following year, Eastman Kodak introduced the #4 Kodak Panoram panoramic camera that proved popular with amateur photographers. In 1911 Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold the Conley Panoramic Camera through their catalog. Mass-produced panoramic cameras worked on the swing-lens principle, used roll film, and did not need a tripod. They made small panoramas, measuring no more than twelve inches long with a field of view of almost 180-degrees. The Cirkut camera was patented in 1904. It used large format film, ranging in width from 5" to 16" and was capable of producing a 360-degree photograph measuring up to 20 feet long. Both the camera and the film rotated on a special tripod during the exposure. Cirkut cameras were used mostly by commercial photographers to capture city views, group portraits, and special events. (Library of Congress)



Stereoviews (aka Stereographs) consist of two nearly identical photographs or photomechanical prints, paired to produce the illusion of a single three-dimensional image, usually when viewed through a stereoscope. These prints come from the Library of Congress collections and include images produced from the 1850s to the 1940s, with the bulk of the collection dating between 1870 and 1920. The online images feature cities and towns around the world, expeditions and expositions, industries, disasters, and portraits of Native Americans, presidents, and celebrities. (Library of Congress)



Originally used to attract the public to performances and performers, these posters illustrate the wide range of popular, live entertainment in America from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The bulk of the posters are color lithographs and woodcuts and come from three main genres: Magic Posters, Minstrel Posters, Theatrical Posters.

1. Magic Posters: feature Houdini, Kellar, Thurston, et al.

2. Minstrel Poster Collection: highlight minstrel companies who usually performed programs of African-American music, comedy and impersonation.

3. Theatrical Posters: a) Burlesque, Dance, Music, Operetta, Specialty Acts, Vaudeville, b) Kiralfy Brothers, c) Portrait Posters, d) Stock Posters.

(Library of Congress)