Prints, Drawings & Photographs

The Boston Athenæum houses a nationally recognized collection of prints, photographs, and drawings dating from the eighteenth century to the present.

Primarily a historical documentation collection, the holdings provide a unique visual record of New England’s cultural and political life. It is particularly strong in prints, photographs, and architectural drawings depicting the built environment and topography of Boston and New England in the nineteenth century. In addition to its New England material, the Department also has a fine collection of prints and photographs of the Civil War as well as political cartoons, portraits, and historical prints that chronicle American national history. The collections are also a significant resource for the study of American art. Specializing in works by Boston artists, photographers, and printmakers, the collection traces the development of printing and photographic techniques in the nineteenth century.


The print collection contains examples of a wide variety of printmaking techniques, including engravings, etchings, aquatints, lithographs, woodcuts, and silk screens. Nineteenth-century New England lithographs form the core of this collection with large numbers of New England city views, landscapes, portraits, advertising posters, sheet music covers, and theatrical prints. Boston was a center for the lithographic arts and many well-known artists received their training as apprentices in local print shops, including Winslow Homer, and Fitz Henry Lane. Their work, along with that of lesser-known, but highly-accomplished artists, is well represented in the collection.


Specializing in works by Boston-area photographic firms, this collection comprises a catalog of early photographic processes, including, but not limited to, the Daguerreotype Collection, ambrotypes, tintypes, albumen and salted paper prints. The important role played by Boston photographers in the history of the medium in America can be traced through the collection, which includes the work of Samuel Bemis, Southworth & Hawes, John Adams Whipple, James Wallace Black, and A.H. Folsom, among others. Internationally important photographers including Felix Nadar, Julia Margaret Cameron, Francis Frith, and Eadweard Muybridge are also represented in the collection. Boston’s changing streetscape in the twentieth century is visible in the collections of photographs by John Murdoch, George M. Cushing, Jr., Paul Caponigro, and Irene Shwachman.

Drawing and Watercolors

This collection encompasses works of art on paper by such professional artists as Isaac Sprague, Thomas Edwards, Edward Clarke Cabot, Ellen Day Hale, Arthur Rotch, and Allan Rohan Crite. The work of amateur or anonymous artists is also collected and provides context for understanding the development of the graphic arts in nineteenth-century America.

How to access the collection

The collection is open to all by appointment. It is recommended that researchers contact the Department in advance to make sure the requested item is available. Please email for information about the collections or to make an appointment. To schedule your appointment please use our Special Collections Request system.