Black and white photography of a decorative window in a brick apartment building.

Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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

  • Historical documentation collection, the holdings provide a unique visual record of New England’s cultural and political life.
  • Prints, photographs, and architectural drawings depicting the built environment and topography of Boston and New England in the nineteenth century.
  • Prints and photographs of the Civil War as well as political cartoons, portraits, and historical prints that chronicle American national history.
  • Specializing in works by Boston artists, photographers, and printmakers, the collection traces the development of printing and photographic techniques in the nineteenth century.

Prints

  • 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.

Photographs

  • Specializing in works by Boston-area photographic firms, our collection comprises a catalog of early photographic processes, including 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.

Accessing the Collection

The collection is open to all by appointment. It is recommended that researchers contact us in advance to make sure the requested item is available.

To schedule your appointment in our rare materials reading room or purchase scans/permissions please use our Special Collections Request system.